Miloslav Mecir, the slow-walking, soft-spoken, slightly bow-legged Czechoslovakian master shotmaker, plays a game that is as smooth as the red stubble on his chin is rough.
Under normal circumstances, Mecir rarely allows anything so abrupt as a trip to the net to interrupt his flow. Shots seem to shower from the racket as it floats across the court with Mecir attached at the handle.
But these were strange, dire circumstances staring at Mecir beneath the bill of his baseball cap on a warm Sunday afternoon.
It was the final of the Newsweek Champions Cup here and he had lost the first two sets on a stream of volleys by Yannick Noah.
Mecir had to do something different. He had to change tactics. He had to go to the net. But first, he had a thought.
“I shouldn’t give up,” he said. “I think he almost had me and I didn’t want to give it up.”
It used to seem that Mecir gets to the net only when he’s dropped there by a taxi. Not anymore.
In one of the most startling about-faces in the long and erratic history of Miloslav Mecir, he came back from his two-set deficit to outlast Noah, 3-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, and win his first tournament title in two years by turning the other cheek to his baseline game and playing a totally uncharacteristic game of aggression.
For Mecir, his victory was worth $137,700, but it also had residual value because it showed the brilliant variations of playing style of which he is capable.
Noah, who had reached the final with the flourish of a smashed volley, apparently arrived with little else. The beginning of the end for Noah was a 14-point game to begin the third set in which he led, 0-30, and later held three break points.
But Mecir survived on a forehand volley to deuce, followed by a service winner and an ace.
“That was my big chance,” Noah said.
Mecir broke Noah in the second game of the third set, at which time the Frenchman acknowledged his energy was flagging.
“I was getting tired,” Noah said.
He was also getting volleyed to death.
From then on, a normal exchange went like this: Mecir serves to Noah’s forehand, then takes the first volley wide to Noah’s backhand.
Mecir made his home at the net. He was there when he scorched a backhand at break point to go up 4-0 in the third set, and when he angled a backhand volley past a lunging Noah to reach set point at 5-1.
The new, serve-and-volley Mecir, however unexpected a presence it might have been, was disarmingly effective. To Mecir, there was nothing else to do.
“I realized it was more better if I was attacking more often,” he said. “I thought (Noah) was resting or something. Then I found out he was a little bit tired and he couldn’t get those volleys he could get in the first two sets.”
An exhausted Noah said afterward that he expected Mecir to become more aggressive.
“It surprised me not,” Noah said. “He chose the right tactic. He started to play totally different tennis.”
Mecir went to the net 98 times during the match, 73 times in the last three sets, and won 72% of the points at the net. Noah, by contrast, a noted serve-and-volleyer, made only 73 advances (15 in the third and fourth sets) and won just 57% of the points at the net.
Mecir said it isn’t all that unusual for him to come in to the net.
“I come from time to time,” he said.
Ion Tiriac, who is Boris Becker’s manager, was impressed with the aggressive Mecir, and a bit wary, too.
“I think Noah taught him something,” Tiriac said. “I hope not.”
Mecir’s service was broken five times in the first two sets, but never again. In fact, Noah had only two other break-point opportunities the rest of the way.
The fourth set turned in the third game when, at deuce, Mecir ripped a backhand passing shot down the line, then caught Noah charging in and hit a lob that landed just inside the baseline at break point.
Mecir secured the set at 3-1 when, on break point in the fifth game, he hit a winner on a backhand service return that exploded at Noah’s feet. All the while, Noah was growing more tired each game.
“I think my game requires more energy than his,” Noah said. “His technique is better. I’m jumping and running and he just sort of floats.”
In the fifth set, Mecir got the break he needed in the fourth game. On his third break point, Mecir picked up Noah’s high kick serve and blistered a backhand crosscourt for a winner.
The normally passive Mecir pumped his fist with emphasis.
With time running out, Noah served at 3-5. He quickly faced his first match point at 30-40, but he came up with a service winner. But there was no more magic in Noah’s racket.
The racket that had produced 22 aces this time gave Noah back-to-back double faults.
Said Noah: “Well, that’s not a great way to finish the match.”
Mecir felt differently. After the final double fault, on the second match point, Mecir raised both arms in triumph and ran to greet Noah.
It was the final time Mecir ran to the net this day.
In defeat, Noah said that Mecir’s game is not so much schizophrenic as it is varied.
“The difference between him and other players is that he can adjust his game,” Noah said. “He doesn’t have to play one-dimensional. He can play a lot of different ways and that is what makes his game a special one.”
Boris Becker and Jakob Hlasek won the doubles title with a 7-6, 7-5 victory over Kevin Curren and David Pate. The winners earned $27,540. . . . The first person Yannick Noah thanked in his comments after the match was Erica Wollweber, a 24-year-old former model from Los Angeles who accompanied him to the tournament. Noah’s runner-up paycheck is $68,350. . . . Attendance for the week was 63,479.