MILLMAN SPEAKS FROM THE HEART


Frustrated with the factional fighting splitting tennis apart, Australian veteran John Millman has issued a savage critique of Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament.


The Queenslander was beleaguered and battle-weary after his 6-1 7-5 7-6 (6) loss to rising American star Seb Korda at Roland Garros on Tuesday in 2hr 38min.


Millman played well and was unlucky not to force a fourth set at a grand slam where he has had little luck when it comes to the draw. But it is not this misfortune worrying him now.

A member of the 12-man ATP Players Council featuring legends including Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, the Queenslander is worn-out by the Wimbledon controversy.


The ATP and WTA Tours reacted to the player ban by stripping Wimbledon of rankings points, which has escalated the furore given it penalises those who performed well last year.


Millman said discussions between the Players Council and other tennis authorities were continuing, though he would not detail where he believed the parties involved would end up.


Another phone hook up was pencilled in for Tuesday night in Paris.


But the Queenslander said the saga which has dominated discussion at Roland Garros this week might never have happened had Wimbledon consulted the players before making the decision. He said no contact was made until a week after the ban was issued.


“I’ll be as honest and frank as possible. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is terrible. My heart aches for the Ukrainian people (and) the Ukrainian players,” he said.


“I hate all conflict. But, also, I don’t like unilateral decisions. There was an opportunity to have the Russians (and) Belarusians play.


“There were two options _ recommendations, not even laws _ but recommendations given by the UK Government.


“One. (That players) sign a declaration and be able to play. And the other one was to ban them. Recommendations, not laws. Without really any consultation, a unilateral decision was made to ban players. It just goes against what tennis is about.”


In the lengthy chat with Australian journalists in Paris, Millman stressed the saga that has rocked tennis must be kept in perspective amid the broader tragedy unfolding in Ukraine.


“First of all, I want to put it out there that I'm against any conflict where people are dying,” he said.


“The Russia-Ukraine conflict is terrible. My heart aches for the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian players.”


Millman first weighed into the saga last month when stating if Wimbledon really wanted to make a difference in the war effort, it should donate its profit from this year’s event.


He was taken to task by Ukrainian player Marta Kostyuk, who said the success of Russian players was used for propaganda by the nation and that it was a “pretty selfish” view.


Millman attempted to clarify his position, saying he believed Wimbledon’s decision was driven by optics rather than to actually help and that he fully supported Ukraine.


The 32-year-old concedes he is likely to be “absolutely murdered on social media” for his opinion but believes a dangerous precedent has been set by banning individual players.


The Australian is so disgusted he said that if tournaments were able to make arbitrary judgements, perhaps Wimbledon could even ban him for speaking his mind.


“I’m getting older and there’s probably not going to be so many opportunities to do it, so I think I will (play) but maybe I’ll get banned for saying this stuff,” he said.


“Maybe. I don’t know. I mean … that’s what I have had a problem with from the very start. It is making unilateral decisions. That is the problem.


“Hopefully I don’t get in too much trouble. But I just don’t care now. Don’t go too hard on me.”


The All England Club said it received government guidance, which included asking Russian and Belarusian players to denounce the invasion of Ukraine, before reaching a decision.


“I heard whispers that, ‘Oh. It is coming from the government, the two recommendations,’,” Millman said.


“Well, if it is coming from the government, get the British Government to say, ‘No. We are banning them. We don’t want them to play,’. Then I’d feel sorry for Wimbledon that they are being pushed into a corner.”


Millman said Wimbledon’s unilateral call was indicative of a trend that began during the pandemic where the Grand Slams put their own objectives above the rest of the tennis tour.


He cited the shift in dates of the Australian and French Opens over the past 18 months as an example, noting those decisions hurt regular ATP and WTA tour events.


The Davis Cup stalwart said the current structure of tennis was clearly failing with the various bodies too often pulling in different directions rather than working in unison.


“I'm against the whole structure in general. We've got to start working together and that's not happening,” he said.


“There’s frustration with everything. There’s frustration with (players being banned). There’s frustration that points have been removed. There’s frustration that there is discrimination.


“It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you sit on. There are frustrations everywhere.”

In a lengthy chat with Australian journalists in Paris, Millman stressed the saga that has rocked tennis must be kept in perspective amid the broader tragedy unfolding in Ukraine.


“I’ll be as honest and frank as possible. The Russia-Ukraine conflict is terrible. My heart aches for the Ukrainian people (and) the Ukrainian players,” he said.


His eyes bloodshot and his back aching after spending a couple of hours on the court, Millman dived in with a viewpoint he is well aware will inspire fury in some quarters, noting “he will probably be absolutely murdered online about having an opinion”.


“Hopefully I don’t get in too much trouble. I just don’t care now. Don’t go too hard on me,” he said.


“There’s frustration with everything. There’s frustration with (players being banned). There’s frustration that points have been removed. There’s frustration that there is discrimination.


“It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you sit on. There are frustrations everywhere.


So I think I will but maybe i’ll get banned for saying this stuff. Maybe, I dunno. I mean, you can, right? That’s what I’ve had a problem with from the very start - it’s making unilateral decisions, that’s the problem.


The ATP Player Council member is highly critical of the lack of consultation he claims Wimbledon had with players before the club banned the Russian and Belarusian cohort from this year’s championships in April.


“I hate all conflict. But, also, I don’t like unilateral decisions,” he said.


“There was an opportunity to have the Russians (and) Belarusians play. There were two options _ recommendations, not even laws _ but recommendations given by the UK Government.


“One. (That they) sign a declaration and be able to play. And the other one was to ban them. Recommendations, not laws. Without, really, any consultation, a unilateral decision was made to ban players. It just goes against what tennis is about.”


The 32-year-old also accused the All England Club of hiding behind the UKGovernment when outlining their reasoning for a ban that has polarised the sport.


“I heard whispers that, ‘Oh. It is coming from the government, the two recommendations,’,” he said.


“Well, if it is coming from the government, get the British Government to say, ‘No. We are banning them. We don’t want them to play,’. Then I’d feel sorry for Wimbledon that they are being pushed into a corner.”


In retaliation, the ATP and WTA Tours announced last Friday that they would strip this year’s Wimbledon Championships of rankings points, which has escalated the crisis further.


Millman entered the fray early on social media and bore criticism from Ukrainian WTA player Marta Kostyuk, among others.


He has held regular discussions with players and the Council.


Millman has always worn his heart on his sleeve in a hard-fought career that has taken him to all corners of the globe , from the lowly Futures Tour to knocking of Federer at the US Open.