The 22-year-old was also awarded a wildcard into last year’s Australian Open, a match which also went to five sets. He lost in the first round to the US’s Denis Kudla.
A year later, it was nearly a carbon copy. He let a two-sets-to-love lead slip and was down a break at 3-2 in the fifth. But he wasn’t going to let this one slide.
Born in the South African coastal town Amanzimtoti, the world No. 187 has never got past qualifying at the other three grand slams.
Polmans’ parents, Gavin and Nicole, both represented South Africa in badminton, while his younger brother Greg is also a tennis player.
He moved from Durban to Melbourne when he was 10 and by that stage Gavin and Nicole had already made sure the legionnaires hat was part of his tennis uniform.
It had nothing to do with the great Ivan Lendl, it was purely for sun protection, but Polmans would still love to hear from him.
“Yeah, definitely. I didn’t know he started it. My parents just gave it to me. I’ve been wearing it since I was eight years old, so it’s pretty cool that the public are starting to get around it,” he chuckled, with remnants of his South African accent still audible.
“At the start, the other players were a bit suss [about the hat], they weren’t really sure what I was doing. But now they’ve seen me on the tour for a couple of years so they kind of got used to it now.”
Polmans is a Collingwood supporter, although he doesn’t follow it closely. His favourite player is Dale Thomas and he wasn’t aware he was traded to Carlton.
Meanwhile, John Millman is dreaming of a third-round clash with Roger Federer after he beat Frenchman Ugo Humbert 7-6 (7-3), 6-3, 1-6, 7-5 on Tuesday.
Millman has faced Federer at a grand slam before – in the fourth round of the 2018 US Open – and pinched the first set off the player many consider to be the greatest of all-time before the Swiss master stamped his authority with a four-set win.
But before Millman allows himself to look too far ahead, he has to get past rising Polish star Hubert Hurkacz in his second-round clash.
“Yeah, look, it would be nice to have another encounter with Roger, but I’m under no illusion, this next match is going to be an absolute tough one. It’s going to be really tough,” Millman said.
“Hurkacz, I’ve played a lot with Hubert. He’s someone that we’re going to really start – I think families are going to start remembering his name – because he’s exponentially improving at a massive rate right now.
“He’s one of the ones you’re going to be seeing on your screens deep in tournaments well into the future.
“If I can get through it, I’d love [it] – you want to be playing the best players in the world and you want to be playing on the biggest courts – win or lose.
“They’re the ones that people want to ask you about and they’re the ones that you tell a few stories about when you finish playing tennis.”
Australia will have at least four men’s players in the second round after rising star Alexei Popyrin benefited from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s withdrawal.
Popyrin was leading two-sets-to-one against the Frenchman on Melbourne Arena when the 2008 finalist opted to pull out, seemingly with a leg complaint.
For 20-year-old Popyrin, who made the third round at the Australian Open and US Opens last year to signal his potential, he was on the way to victory after dominating the second and third sets.
Popyrin advanced 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-1, 0-0 retired, to join Polmans, Millman and Jordan Thompson in the second round.
But it was not the way Popyrin wanted to advance, given he was playing a childhood hero.
“That’s just a painful one,” he said on court. “Seeing him retire hurt is just painful.”
Thompson rounded out a strong day for the Australian contingent, defeating Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik in straight sets.
Despite tempers flaring midway through the second set between Bublik and the chair umpire after a horrible call from the linesperson, Thompson could not be stopped, dominating to win 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
But James Duckworth fell to Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (5-7), 6-2, 6-4.
Sam McClure won the Clinton Grybas rising star award at the AFL media association awards in 2015.
Sam is a sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.