Michael Mmoh was sitting in his hotel room on Tuesday watching the Dallas Cowboys play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL playoffs. The American had lost in the final round of Australian Open qualifying and his hopes of taking a spot in the main draw appeared slim, so he booked his flight home.
“I was fully locked in on that game. Then all of a sudden I got a call from the ATP guy. Right when I saw the notification, I answered it right away. Like, literally,” Mmoh said Thursday. “I have never answered a phone call so fast in my life. First ring, and I was on it.”
The 25-year-old was told to be on site and get ready, since there was a possibility of a withdrawal that would see him enter the draw. Once David Goffin withdrew, the American was next on Court 13 to play Frenchman Laurent Lokoli. In the match ahead of them, Linda Fruhvirtova was leading Jaimee Fourlis 6-0, 2-0.
“I literally just grabbed my bag, grabbed a bunch of match clothes. Luckily everything was kind of in there already. Went straight to the site,” Mmoh said. “Also luckily, that match slowed down a little bit…
“Then another thing that went in my favour is I went basically straight to the match court, and then there was that heat delay. That kind of helped me.”
Even so, heat was not the only factor. It also rained, which wreaked more havoc on the match. Through the whirlwind of events, Lokoli took a 6-4, 6-2, 6-6 (6/6) lead, when a rain delay sent the players off court with the Frenchman two points from victory. When they returned, Mmoh missed a short forehand to give Lokoli match point, putting the World No. 175 on the brink of his first tour-level win. The Frenchman double faulted to give Mmoh life.
“At that point I just knew, if he wasn’t going to take the match, there had to be somebody to take the match. I could see that he was very nervous at that point,” Mmoh said. “I felt like I was playing well, but just things weren’t really going my way. But I knew if I won that set, the momentum would have shifted. He would have been thinking about that moment, and I felt like I was the better player.”
The American took full advantage of the opportunity. He won the tie-break, claimed the fourth set and took a 3-1 lead in the decider, when weather again suspended play, this time until Wednesday.
When the players continued the match, there was far less drama. Mmoh cruised through the rest of the fifth set, triumphing 6-2 in the decider to reach the second round at Melbourne Park for the third time. It was not that long ago he was sitting in his hotel room preparing to fly home.
“At that point, [I thought I had] zero [chance]. At this point I was even talking to my fiancee, and she was like, ‘Why don’t you fly out tonight?’ I was, like, ‘I would, but I don’t even think there [are] flights,’” Mmoh recalled. “I’m here now. Like, what if I was at the airport and somehow I got a last-minute call? Then I would be screwed. So I’ve got to stay just this one afternoon basically.”
The dream run did not stop there. Mmoh on Thursday stunned two-time Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev in four sets to reach the third round at a Grand Slam for the first time.
“I don’t know if I’m going to finally wake up or something. It just doesn’t seem real. Like, the past 48 hours have been a complete whirlwind from going from being ready to go back home, booking a flight, packing my bags. I was supposed to leave yesterday,” Mmoh said. “Now I’m here, and I just had the best win of my career. It just doesn’t seem real.”
Mmoh in action during the second round in Melbourne, where he upset Zverev. Credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
Mmoh is up to No. 82 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, which will put him at a new career high on 30 January regardless of how he performs the rest of the fortnight. This did not come out of the blue, though.
The American finished 2022 on a high, winning two ATP Challenger Tour titles and reaching another final from September. He credits that to remaining healthy.
“To be honest, I haven’t been this healthy in my whole career. I think in 2018 I got out the Top 100, and I was main draw Australian Open, and I was main draw [in] some of the ATP events following. I got injured, and I was out for six months,” Mmoh said. “It’s always been a stop-start in my career, but the last 12 months or 12 to 14 months I’ve been 100 per cent healthy.
“I’ve been playing every event that I want to play. I think that’s a blessing because not every week is going to go your way.”
Mmoh is enjoying a dream run on and off the court. One month ago, he proposed to fiancee Klara Mrcela. Now he will play J.J. Wolf for a place in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
“Insane. Insane. You know, because the thing is I proposed, and then two days later I left to come to these tournaments. So it would have been maybe a little sad if I would have came back and lost in qualies,” Mmoh said. “At the end of the day it doesn’t matter, but to come back after probably the biggest win of my career… We definitely have got to celebrate that moment together when we’re back, along with the engagement.”