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Can John Millman the Federer-slayer win the US Open?

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Expert
5th September, 2018
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“If the greatest writer of the written word would have written that story, no-one would have believed it.”

The late great Cliff Morgan uttered this beautiful and mellifluous line when commentating on the unforgettable 1973 rugby match between the Barbarians and the All Blacks.

Although the Welshman was speaking of the great scrum-half Gareth Edwards, this could equally be applied for the remarkable achievement of a little-known tennis player called Mark Edmondson.

The year is 1976, the same year that Fidel Castro became the President of Cuba.

Edmondson is playing in only his third slam at the age of 21. It happens to be his home grand slam – the Australian Open.

The Australian, who had only won one match in a grand slam before, is ranked 212th in the world.

He is preparing to face Austrian Peter Feigl, a player who went onto defeat Ken Rosewall at the 1978 Australian Open, in what turned out to be the last grand slam match ‘Muscles’ ever played.

Edmondson came from two sets to one down to see off Feigl in round one and thus precipitated a journey that would turn out to be one of the most remarkable underdog tales in all of sport – one that not that many will be aware of.

The 6’1” right-hander then knocked out fifth seed Philip Dent, 12th seed Brian Fairlie and 13th seed Richard Crealy. The magic did not end there, however.

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He then powered past world number one, Rosewall, in four sets to set up a dream final with defending champion, John Newcombe.

So, did he do it? Well of course he did. Edmondson came from a set down to upset the Aussie legend.

He became the first player in the Open era to win a grand slam as an unseeded player.

He remains the lowest-ranked winner of a slam since the ATP rankings came to be in 1973.

Edmondson, who now sports one of the greatest moustaches you will ever see, is also the last Australian to date to win the men’s singles at the Australian Open.

Fast forward to 2018 and another unheralded Aussie is achieving extraordinary things.

In one of the greatest upsets in the sport’s history, Brisbane born John Millman beat 20-time grand slam champion Roger Federer in the fourth round of the US Open.

What makes this stunning result even more scarcely believable, is the fact that the 29-year-old, who has a career record of 44 wins and 58 losses, almost retired from the sport in 2011 from a shoulder injury.

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And yet, there he was in Arthur Ashe stadium, deservedly taking out the five-time US Open champion in front of the watching world – apart from his family, who were crippled by nerves and a superstitious fear of bringing bad luck to him.

So, 42 years on from Edmondson’s heroics, will the stars align for an Australian once again?

Next up is Novak Djokovic who, after posting a dismal match record of six wins and six losses early in 2018, has gone onto win Wimbledon and Cincinnati. He is the bookmakers’ favourite for the title.

The Serb is not impregnable, however. Like Federer, Djokovic struggled immensely with the intense heat and humidity in his respective first round match against Marton Fucsovics.

If those conditions return, Djokovic could be in for an almighty struggle on Wednesday night.

The world number 55 has absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain.

He can maybe draw inspiration from Edmondson or, more recently, Italian Marco Cecchinato.

Heading into the French Open, the 25-year-old had only won around a dozen ATP matches in his career, before he went onto reach the semi-finals in Paris, beating Djokovic, of all people, along the way.

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Stranger things have happened in sport, let alone tennis. So why can’t ‘Millmania’ carry on, if only for a short while?