The blockbuster quarterfinal is no more. There will be no mega Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic showdown under the lights Wednesday night.
John Millman, an unknown Australian in the first round of 16 Grand Slam match of his 12-year career, spoiled the party. The unseeded and 55th-ranked Millman pulled the Labor Day stunner, rallying from a set down to oust Federer 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (3) at Arthur Ashe Stadium in a 3-hour and 34-minute marathon that stretched into early Tuesday morning. The loss marked Federer’s earliest departure from Flushing since losing to Tommy Robredo in the 2013 fourth round.
“I’m probably in a little bit of disbelief,” Millman said in his on-court interview. “But you know I have so much respect for Roger and everything he’s done for the game. He’s been a hero of mine. Today definitely wasn’t at his best, but I’ll take it.”
Federer, indeed, did not play as well as he had in the opening three matches, when he didn’t drop a set. He double-faulted 10 times — twice in the fourth-set tiebreak to lose control — and committed an uncharacteristic 76 unforced errors, 48 more than the patient Millman.
Just two days ago, Millman described his third-round victory over Mikhail Kukushkin as the “biggest moment of my career.” This, however, dwarfed it, a win over arguably the greatest of all time to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal against a decidedly pro-Federer crowd.
Federer had never lost a match at the U.S. Open to a player ranked outside the top 50. Millman is ranked No. 55.
Millman had trained with Federer at his Swiss base prior to Wimbledon, an experience that certainly seemed to calm his nerves. He wasn’t in awe of the 20-time Grand Slam champion after a shaky start.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Roger. He’s got an aura about him. Definitely a player I’ve looked up to throughout my career,” he said before the match. “But I have never been a fan of playing someone’s reputation. When you go out on the court, I think it’s about engaging in a battle.”
What at first seemed like a routine victory became anything but. Federer broke Millman’s first service game, led 3-0 and took the first set in just 33 minutes, finishing it off with a 128 mph serve and backhand volley winner. He was up a break in the second set, before his serve began to betray him. A Federer double-fault enabled Millman to pull even at 5-all and Federer lost his serve again when his backhand sailed long, evening the match at a set apiece.
Millman took the third set tiebreaker, rallying from 3-1 down and saving a set point. With chants of, “Let’s go, Roger, let’s go,” in the background, he blasted a blistering forehand winner that exploded past a lunging Federer to go up 8-7 then finished the set off with a big first serve. Federer broke him to go up 4-2 in the fourth set, but Millman broke right back, leading to the tiebreak.