The “kitten” is starting to get his whiskers in the mix. The son of the Olympic champion in Seoul, Miloslav “the Cat” Mecir is beginning to walk in the pawprints of his well-known father. The resemblance is striking, and the results are slowly starting to follow. Against Tim Smyczek on Friday, Mecir Junior qualified for the main draw of a Grand Slam for the very first time.
He has the same expressionless stare and the same nonchalant gait of his father. He has inherited his extraordinary feel for the game and an uncanny ability to crack seemingly effortless backhands. There is only one thing missing for the likeness to be complete: the results. At an age when Dad’s aching back forced him to pull the plug on a career highlighted by two Grand Slam finals and an Olympic gold medal, Miloslav Mecir junior has just reached his career-best ranking of No.204.
The man they called the “Cat” has not only passed on his anticipation and touch, he has also passed on back problems to Miloslav Jr., now 26. “As a kid, I had a lot of injuries. Basically, I wasn’t able to play tennis between the ages of 14 and 17. I also had a ligament problem in my elbow. Just two years ago, I was considering quitting the sport.” With a solid head on his shoulders, he even enrolled in college where he developed a passion for science and nature, while continuing to train “because the financial gains from tennis could be good for paying for school. And with all the injuries, I had some free time, so it was the perfect opportunity.”
Playing against his heroes
His decision to not completely give up on tennis has paid off, with solid results coming in the past few months. In 2013, he won two Futures events and made it to two semis on the Challengers tour, earning the right to compete in the qualifying rounds of a major for the first time in his career at the US Open. At year’s end, he qualified for the ATP 250 event in Vienna, where he upset Pablo Andujar, then ranked No.51 in the world, before giving Tommy Haas a run for his money, a player he “remembered seeing at the Hopman Cup, in Perth, when I was nine years old. My dad was coaching Karol Kucera and he brought me along with him to tournaments”, Mecir the younger recalled.
And now here he is at the French Open, one match away from breaking into the main draw of a tourney where his father was a semi-finalist in 1987. The Slovak came out on top of a three-hour, three-setter against Marsel Ilhan in the second round of qualies that featured seven match points (7-6, 2-6, 11-9). He spoke of a “dream that is slowly coming true. Clay is not my best surface, my game works better on grass and indoors, but if I keep it up, it will quickly become my favourite surface”, he laughed after his marathon win. He stopped to chat with a number of curious spectators who gawked at the spitting image of the tennis icon of the 1980s.
“I’m used to having people see my father when they see me”
“I’m used to having people see my father when they see me,” he explained. “It’s true that we look alike and play alike. I take the ball early, I hit flat…Yet my Dad has never been my coach. Well, not exactly…seeing as I don’t have a coach right now, he is obviously the one looking after me!” he grinned.
And what about Papa Mecir? Concerned about not stealing the little limelight his son has finally earned, he echoes his son: “You really can’t compare him to me. Times have changed, tennis itself is a different sport. We used to play with wooden racquets! Three or four generations of players have come and gone so there is really no comparison.” One thing is for sure for Miloslav junior: “In everything I’ve done in life, my family has always been there to support me. So I’m very proud to be a Mecir.”