- Peter Bodo, Tennis
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There are no memories quite like summer memories; if you don’t trust me on that, just name off the top of your head the hits or timeless standard songs that celebrate the joys of February or November. On Sunday in Hamburg, Leonardo Mayer -- once an up-and-coming player from whom great things were expected -- experienced something that will stay with him for the rest of his days.
The years have slipped by quietly for Mayer. Can it be just a couple of months ago he turned 27? Yet he had never won an ATP tournament of any kind, never mind a Masters 1000, never mind a Grand Slam title. He never played on a team that won the Davis Cup.
This kind of thing can happen to a player who’s talented enough not to have to be running scared, a guy who knows that even on cruise control he’s going to have good checks rolling in. Mayer has been in the top 100 for most of the past five years, and he hit his career high of No. 46 a year ago. Life is good -- life may even be easy. Tennis, like surfing, has an endless summer. You can get lulled into just going with the flow.
But Mayer is also a tennis professional, and while down deep he may never have felt the overpowering need to win Wimbledon, he was well-aware that he’d never won anything at the ATP tour level. Nothing. Zippo. Squat. And, having been one of the most successful juniors in the world in 2005, he must have been acutely conscious of the stillborn nature of his career. In a blaze of glory back in '05, he made six consecutive junior finals, winning four of those events.
The reality is that Mayer had a monkey on his back, and for so long that he probably grew accustomed to it. But with one mighty shrug Sunday, he heaved off the simian, perhaps for good. And perhaps he’ll be a different player in what is essentially the back end of his career.
Unseeded Mayer won Hamburg, becoming the lowest-ranked player to win an ATP 500 in three years. Better yet, he beat three players seeded No. 10 or higher, including the top seed -- his victim in the final. Best of all, in that final he mastered a player who, while losing a bit of his once-superior consistency, has a reputation as one of the most implacable competitors on the ATP Tour: David Ferrer.
Yes, that David Ferrer. The one who has salted away 21 ATP Tour titles in a long and distinguished career through which he’s never lost the innate optimism of a champion -- not even when he was repeatedly and routinely crushed by slightly better champions.
Mayer packed an awful lot of career memories into this final, too. He was forced to three sets on a day when world No. 7 Ferrer’s age of 32 seemed not much of a factor. Mayer had a break advantage on two occasions in the first set, but Ferrer earned them back and ultimately won a tiebreaker. Not deflated, Mayer also broke twice in the second set, and that time he didn’t hand back the edge, closing it out 6-1.
In the final set, Mayer served for it at 5-4, but Ferrer being Ferrer, Mayer wasn’t out of danger -- not by a long shot. Ferrer broke back, but then Mayer showed the perseverance, cool head and calm nerves to keep it together. He forced a tiebreaker and won that one 7-4.
Leonardo Mayer shows signs of taking his game to the next level at Wimbledon, as well. (He made the fourth round at Wimbledon this year.) But whatever happens from here on in is not likely to diminish his memories of this particular summer, and this particular week in Hamburg. Somebody ought to write a song about it.