Aussie tennis greats Todd Woodbridge and Pat Cash have come to the defence of John Millman after he was accused of using a ball-tampering tactic during his nail-biting five-set defeat to Roger Federer, by former coach of two-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova.
The Aussie journeyman almost caused a repeat of his 2018 US Open upset on when he dispatched Federer in five-sets to progress to the quarterfinals.
But on Friday night it wasn’t to be as Millman capitulated in a super tie-break eventually falling to the Swiss Maestro 4-6 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 4-6 7-6 (10-8).
The blockbuster will be heralded as one of the matches of the tournament, attracting international attention that was not just confined to the tennis world.
But former player and coach of Sharapova, Sven Groeneveld, took to Twitter during the match to probe at a particular habit of Millman’s.
Groeneveld was perturbed by the Aussie appearing to rub the ball against his sweaty shirt before serving, a strategy that was historically employed by older generations.
The theory goes, according to Groeneveld, moisture helps the ball peel off excess fluff helping to speed up first serves, while also allowing the ball to skid off the court and throw one’s opponent off.
“Millman applying the old trick in speeding up the first serve by rolling the ball on his (I assume) wet shirt before he serves?” Groeneveld asked.
“Is that legal in tennis I know it’s not in other ball sports like cricket and baseball? Do we have a rule in tennis?
“The ball skids through first and throws of the timing of your opponent not only on the one serve but it disturbs the consistency of your timing on other shots.”
That invited an almighty refute from Australian tennis great Woodbridge who said he was baffled by Groeneveld’s suggestions.
“I’m flabbergasted that anyone would suggest John Millman is cheating,” Woodbridge exclusively told Wide World of Sports.
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“He’s completely a routine player. Throughout his whole career, we can go back and watch every one of his matches, and everything he did last night he does in every other match, so to point something out like that last night is just ridiculous.
“Last night by the time they finished I think it was around 17 degrees, so they weren’t sweating profusely. What’s the difference between that and players in humid conditions who are sweating profusely put a ball in their pocket?
“Having a wet ball compared to a dry ball isn’t significantly slowing the ball down anyway. A new ball that is drier is faster and bouncier and more advantageous off a first serve.
“I’m completely disappointed by anyone suggesting anything otherwise. It is a routine for him to do that. Every player goes and picks the ball with the least fluff to get it through the air better. With him (the routine) is what he does with his shoes, what he does with his racquet, his hat, the way he talks to the people in his box the whole time. It’s ridiculous.”
Former Aussie Wimbledon champion Cash also rubbished Groeneveld’s claims insisting Millman’s movements were innocuous.
“It’s absolute crap,” the 1987 Wimbledon champion told the Daily Telegraph.
“Rubbing the ball on a sweaty shirt has very little effect on the ball, if any effect all.
“It’s more to smooth the cover of the ball down. It becomes a habit for some players.
“John Newcombe and lots of our great champions used to do back in the day when the ball quality probably wasn’t as good.
“How does that affect anything? It’s crap. Cricketers are allowed to use sweat and saliva on the ball to help it swing. That’s legal.
“Using sweat on a tennis ball does virtually nothing. It might make it fractionally heavier but it would have no impact on the receiver. It’s b–lshit.”
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Under USTA rules, it is deemed illegal. However, it is not mentioned in the ITF rules.
Lasting four hours and three minutes and ending just before 1am, world Millman was arguably the better player for large parts of the match.
While devastated with the loss, Millman said he couldn’t have done any more.
“Yeah, I’m disappointed – I left it all out there and I didn’t win,” he said.
“I’d probably rather lose it like 10-5 or something.
“Obviously would have been great to have served an ace and have a few matches and put it to bed but it didn’t happen.
“You know, s—, I played some all right tennis to get to that stage.”