John Millman is confident of producing his best form as he attempts to defend a title at ATP Tour level for the first time in the Astana Open in Nur-Sultan this week.
The Australian, who practised with Italians Lorenzo Musetti and Andreas Seppi prior to Saturday’s draw, made history as the inaugural Astana Open champion in 2020. The 32-year-old defeated Frenchman Adrian Mannarino 7-5 6-1 in the final after posting victories over Fernando Verdasco, Tommy Paul and Frances Tiafoe on the way to the decider.
Millman, who reached the US Open quarter-finals in 2018, has claimed 12 ATP Challenger level titles. But he said breaking through on the main tour was a highlight of his career.
“It was massive for me. It is a really challenging thing to do and it is something that I had set as a goal for the past few years,” he said. “There have been plenty of good players who have not been able to break through and lift a title at the ATP level.
“I felt like I had put myself in a position a couple of times. I’d been in a couple of finals before, so to go through and achieve a goal was really special. It was, mentally, a really challenging year for everyone, so to be able to do it like that, I was proud of it, because it really tested your resilience. The triumph was the culmination of a lot of hard work and resilience.”
No. 43 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, Millman is seeded fifth for the 2021 Astana Open and will open the tournament against a qualifier. Aslan Karatsev, a semifinalist at the Australian Open in February, is the top seed for the ATP 250 tournament carrying prize money of $541,800.
Millman has been hindered by injuries prior to major events in a testing season in which he has compiled a record of 14 wins from 34 matches. The Brisbane native was forced to withdraw from the French Open due to a back injury and then suffered bone bruising in a foot at the Olympics in a further blow, with the injury troubling him in the lead-in to the US Open.
“That was really challenging. You want to be peaking at the Grand Slams,” he said.
But the right-hander reached quarter-finals in Munich in April and in Washington D.C. in August and has trained well in Nur-Sultan over the past week.
He believes his game is suited to the indoor hard courts of the Astana Open. “I won’t lie. It has been a really challenging year for me,” he said.
“When I have been fit, I feel like I’ve played some pretty good tennis. Maybe the results don’t show that, but when I was fit, I felt great.
“But it is a nice feeling being back here. You know your surroundings. They do an incredible job here. It is good to be back where I had some nice memories last year.”
– Story courtesy Astana Open