A Long Time Coming

Bucharest, Final

(2) Mayer d. (4) Andujar, 6/3 6/1

I first heard about Florian Mayer from my father earlier in the decade before this one. Some time late in the year – perhaps 2004 – the evening well-advanced, Dad was aroused from his couch-bound slumber to discover the television showing one of those interminable indoors events infesting the back end of the season. There was a young and curiously bird-like and fey German on court, with an awkward technique and lousy smile. This was one to watch, Dad subsequently warned me, and so I watched him. I agreed his technique was weird, and that he might well amount to something. He would surely win a title, and maybe reach the top 20. But Federer was happening all around us, and although the Swiss was proving that anything was possible, he was making it clear that it was only possible for he and his mates. Players like Mayer became part of the background, bulking out the mise-en-scene, providing the biomass over which the top players would roll on their way to glory. He never amounted to much more, and by 2008, when he fell to an injury-inspired 350-odd in the rankings, he was amounting to less and less.

Since then the certainty that Florian Mayer was destined to win an ATP title has ebbed and flowed more or less in lockstep with the vagaries of his career, although it is ironic that even as his ranking has soared to a career-high of late, that maiden title was looking less and less inevitable. Before today he had lost four tour-level finals. After today, he still has, but now he has a win to offset them.

He did it on clay, which shouldn’t really be his best surface, but always kind of has been. You would think his game would work on grass, and on fast indoor courts, and it’s hard to say that it doesn’t, but even harder to say what his game actually is. It tends to be called ‘funky’, and he is sometimes compared to Fabrice Santoro. But he isn’t funky the way Bernard Tomic is, though Mayer does share the younger player’s tendency to attempt an unexpected shot in lieu of an effective one. The comparison to Santoro is equally misleading, since the German is considerably more orthodox, until he isn’t. With Santoro it was all weird, all the time. Mayer’s rallies tend to putter along comfortably, until he suddenly leaps into a double-handed drop-shot from behind the baseline. You can’t teach that . . . at least, not legally. Today he proved far too able for Pablo Andujar, who didn’t play very well. Indeed, the Spaniard played too poorly even to be put off by Mayer’s technique, since in order to be put off you must be at least a little bit on. From 3/1 up in the first set, he won only one game, and he barely deserved it.

If, seven years ago, Dad had asked me to name the year and location of Mayer’s first title, I can say with total certainty that I would have come up with something sooner than 2011 and somewhere other than Bucharest. Still, it’s what weeks and tournaments like this are for. Even more strikingly, it is what years like this are for. 2011 has witnessed no fewer than nine new titlists, one of whom was Andujar. (None of them have been Janko Tipsarevic.) Technically speaking, Bucharest is not part of the European indoor circuit, largely because it is a clay event played outdoors. This means that, sadly for Mayer, his first ATP trophy is not an eternal outrage against good taste. Metz, however, is an indoor event, and it did not disappoint.

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