- 30 Sep 2020
Miloslav Mecir crowned first Olympic champion since 1924: What happened exactly on that day
On this day, September 30, 1988, Miloslav Mecir, from Czechoslovakia, became the first Olympic champion in tennis since 1924, defeating Tim Mayotte, from the USA, in the final of the tournament in Seoul (3-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2). The last tennis player to have claimed a gold medal in tennis was Vincent Richards, who had triumphed in Paris 64 years before. This would remain the biggest achievement of Mecir’s short career. Although most of the top players had not attended the event, the popular success of the Olympic tennis event would progressively attract the biggest stars.
The players involved
Miloslav Mecir was born in Czechoslovakia, in 1964. He turned professional in 1982, and very soon, his game style drew attention: his unpredictable shots, his great touch and his agility earned him the nickname “Il Gattone” (“The Big Cat”). He claimed his first title in Rotterdam, in 1985, defeating Jakob Hlasek in the final (6-1, 6-2), and in 1986, he obtained his first remarkable Grand Slam result at the US Open, finishing runner-up to Ivan Lendl (6-4, 6-2, 6-0). In 1987, he clinched the most important title of his career, triumphing at the Lipton Championship, in Key Biscayne (defeating Lendl in the final, 7-5, 6-2, 7-5), before reaching the semi-final at Roland-Garros, where Lendl took his revenge (6-3, 6-3, 7-6). In 1988, in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon, he beat Mats Wilander (6-3, 6-1, 6-3), but, despite a two-set lead, he lost in the next round to another Swede, Stefan Edberg (4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4). In September, he was world No 10.
Tim Mayotte, from the USA, was born in 1960. After playing for Stanford University, he turned pro after claiming the NCAA title in 1981. With his serve-and-volley game, he reached the semi-final at Wimbledon in 1982 (defeated by John McEnore, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2), which remained his best Grand Slam performance along with another semi-final reached on grass, at the 1983 Australian Open (lost to Ivan Lendl, 6-1, 7-6, 6-3). In the following years, he was a solid top 20 player, making his way to the Wimbledon quarter finals in 1983, 1986 and 1988. In November 1987, he triumphed at the indoor Paris Bercy Open, defeating Brad Gilbert in the final (2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-7, 6-3), which propelled him into the top 10.
Seoul Olympic Park Tennis Center is a tennis venue in Seoul, South Korea, located in the Olympic Park. The Olympics were a novelty in the world of professional tennis, as the sport was absent from the Games since 1924. On May 11, 1987, the IOC had decided upon the inclusion of tennis in Seoul. But the stakes were higher than just tennis: by including all tennis players, the IOC would officially acknowledge the end of amateurism for the first time.
In the first Olympic tennis tournament since 1924, many top players were missing, including world No 1, Mats Wilander, and world No 2, Ivan Lendl. In fact, only three top ten players had attended the event : Stefan Edberg (no 3), Tim Mayotte (No 9) and Miloslav Mecir (No 10).
These three top seeds made their way to the semi-finals, where Mecir and Edberg faced each other. Mayotte played against the No 5 seed, Brad Gilbert, after fourth seed Henri Leconte suffered an early and controversial loss against world No 361 Kim Bong-soo.
Mayotte easily dismissed Gilbert, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3, but Mecir had to battle five sets to prevail against Edberg, 3-6, 6-0, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, taking his revenge after a painful loss against the Swede in the Wimbledon semi-final.
In this promising final, pitching two players with opposite styles, it was Mayotte and his serve-and-volley game who had the best start. He won the first set, 6-3, but he was broken early in the second set, and from that moment, Mecir dictated the game. Very consistent on his first serve, he prevented the American from coming to the net and rallied his opponent around the court in his usual way.
‘He was keeping me in motion,” Mayotte said, quoted by The New York Times. ”I knew I would have my work cut out for me. He made so many of his first serves, hitting them deep that I couldn’t get to the net.”
“The Cat” put Mayotte under constant pressure, and he dominated the three next sets, 6-2, 6-4, 6-2. On match point, the American netted a backhand volley, allowing Mecir to express his joy by throwing his racket into the air and running to the net.
”It’s a very good feeling,” Mecir said. ”It’s difficult to say how this rates, however. I’ve played in so many tournaments. It is nice, though, to hear people cheering not only because I’m a good player, but because I am playing for them also.”
For once in tennis, the runner-up didn’t look too disappointed. ”It’s strange because here, the emphasis is on medals instead of 100 percent on winning,” Mayotte said. ”So there is consolation in getting to the medal group. The ceremony was fantastic, it’s such a different way of doing things.”
After a last Grand Slam final, losing to Lendl at the 1989 Australian Open (6-2, 6-2, 6-2), Mecir would put an early end to his career in 1990 after a serious back injury, aged only 26. His smooth game style would earn him a place in the hearts of many tennis fans.
Tim Mayotte would claim the last of his 12 titles in 1990, in Washington, defeating Brad Gilbert once again in the final (3-6, 6-4, 7-5). He would retire in 1992.
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