Australian Open 2016: All-Australian contest between immense talent and elite work ethic

Showman versus the journeyman: Bernard Tomic and John Millman. When Bernard Tomic was spending time in a Miami lock-up, sharing his cell with a television thief back in July, his next opponent John Millman was helping his Australian Davis Cup teammates prepare for their tie against Kazakhstan in Darwin.

Millman was the hitting partner for the others. He wasn’t picked to play. Tomic was barred from participating by Tennis Australia.

While Tomic was rising up the rankings early last year, after reaching the fourth round at Melbourne Park, Millman was contemplating whether he should quit the circuit. In late August 2014, as he recovered from shoulder surgery, Millman was ranked 1192; a year later, he’d reached No. 71. Today’s he’s No. 95.

When Tomic was emerging from junior ranks, everyone knew all about him. He was another prospective Aussie saviour, who would play Davis Cup and reach the third and fourth rounds of a grand slam event as a teen.

When Millman was a junior, he attracted little attention, wasn’t touted as the next anyone. Unlike precocious Bernie, Millman was a late bloomer. Just as he began to emerge, shoulder surgeries set honest John back.

Bernie, by his own admission, hasn’t always worked hard. He’s coasted on immense talent. Millman, conversely, is said to have an elite work ethic, but wasn’t blessed with Tomic’s elite ball-striking and court craft.

On Saturday, Tomic and Millman meet in a rare all-Australian third-round match. This is the fifth time Tomic has progressed to at least the third round. Millman, needless to add, has never seen the last 32 of a major.

Both Tomic and Millman grew up and reside in south-east Queensland, but their experiences are a world apart. Millman, 26, is the tennis version of the batsman who was playing only district cricket 18 months ago and has just made the Test team. Tennis folk who know him say he has absolutely no sense of entitlement.

Millman knew Tomic growing up, even though he was three years older. He called Bernie “the benchmark” in Australian men’s tennis. “On the flipside, I feel I can go out there and have nothing to lose. He plays Davis cup every tie, just about … he’s our number one player.” Millman has never played on any of the three major courts at Melbourne Park. He’s a show court man, not a showman. Last year, he qualified for Wimbledon, won his first-round match and then led Marcos Baghdatis two sets to love before succumbing.

If it’s a test of skill, sublime Bernie will prevail. If it’s a test of will, dogged Millman will be dangerous. “When it comes down to a test of willpower and tenacity, he’ll back himself,” said Millman’s coach, Mark Draper.

Draper called his man “a bit of grinder” whose hard training and preparation meant he would fare well in tough, four or five set matches. “If it goes the distance, he’s got a good chance.” Draper said Millman had to “be aggressive” and “get him (Tomic) moving” around the court, affording him less time to use his magic.

Millman led Roger Federer one set and 3-1 in Brisbane last year, and has pushed Murray to a deciding set. He could match with the best players, Draper said.

Millman, who outlasted Gilles Muller in five sets to reach this match, said of his prospects v Tomic: “For me on paper he should win. But tennis is a funny game. You start off at zero all … on a given day, anyone can win.” If Tomic is worn down or has one of those attacks of disinterest, this 26-year-old “anyone” will suddenly become someone to talk about.

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