Miloslav Mečíř

Born: May 19, 1964 in Bojnice (Trenčín)
Height: 1.90 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
When contemplating who is the best Open Era player to never win a Grand Slam title, my thoughts gravitate toward Mečíř, “The Big Cat”. A straightforward approach to answering this question would be to compare non-active players who reached the most major finals without clinching a victory. This group includes two-time major finalists – in chronological order – such as Steve Denton, Kevin Curren, Mečíř, Cédric Pioline, Todd Martin, Àlex CorretjaRobin Söderling and Kevin Anderson. Even though Corretja won distinctively more matches and titles than Mečíř (438 vs 262 and 17 vs 11 respectively), furthermore the Spaniard was also ranked higher (two vs four), I lean towards Mečíř due to his all-court versatility as well as achieving a lot in a short span.
Corretja contested both his major finals on clay, whereas Mečíř reached his on hard courts, albeit at different venues (US Open ’86 and Australian Open ’89; both finals quickly lost to his compatriot Ivan Lendl). The (Czecho)Slovak also reached semifinals at all majors, a feat Corretja did not accomplish outside of France. Comparing their biggest titles, Corretja triumphed at the “Masters” ’98 in Hanover, while ten years earlier, Mečíř secured a gold medal at the Olympics in Seoul. Evaluating these achievements presents a challenge, as Corretja faced the best players worldwide in his victory, while Seoul ’88 did not attract all the top talent as the inaugural official Olympic event. However, Mečíř had to navigate through six ‘best of five’ matches to secure his victory.
Another aspect to consider is their other significant titles. While there wasn’t an equivalent of ‘Masters 1K’ in the 1980s, both players claimed titles of comparable prestige. Corretja won these tournaments twice as ‘Mercedes Super 9’ (Rome and Indian Wells), as did Mečíř (Key Biscayne and Indian Wells). Notably, in the years 1987-89, Key Biscayne was dubbed the “fifth Grand Slam” due to its format requiring the champion to win seven ‘best of five’ matches. Consequently, Mečíř’s victory in Florida ’87 may hold more weight than Stefan Edberg‘s Australian Open title of the same year (he defeated Mečíř i.a.), where seeded players received a first-round bye… Reflecting on the hierarchy of prestigious events in singles, it roughly follows this order (without nuanced differences):
– Grand Slams
– Olympics
– “Masters” for 8 best players of the season
– Masters 1K (former Mercedes Super 9)
– WCT Finals/Grand Slam Cup
– Other main-level events, graded based on prize money primarily
Before the introduction of the Grand Slam Cup in Munich in 1990, the World Championship Tennis in Dallas during the 1980s served a similar function, gathering top players in an indoor event featuring ‘best of five’ format rounds. Although I hold Munich’s event in higher regard, Corretja failed to reach even a semifinal there, while Mečíř triumphed in Dallas ’87, defeating Mats Wilander, Andrés Gómez, and John McEnroe – two of whom were top-tier players in men’s tennis at the time.
Competitiveness against the best players in the most significant tournaments is another crucial factor. While Corretja’s achievement in Hanover ’98 is commendable, he did not defeat Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi at Grand Slam events (he had defeated them in Hanover), despite performing admirably against them in New York. In contrast, Mečíř defeated all the top players in the world of the late 1980s in ‘best of five’ matches. Mečíř boasted a 20-3 record for a while against Swedish players, who were a dominant force in men’s tennis at the time. Especially his 7-4 record against Wilander is particularly intriguing, considering Wilander’s reputation as the best brain of the 1980s.
I consider Wilander the most astute tactician of the 80s; however, he couldn’t find a solution when facing the unorthodox Mečíř. The most bitter defeat among their encounters occurred at Wimbledon ’88 – in hindsight; had Wilander claimed that title, he would have enjoyed the best Open Era season! He was outplayed 3-6, 1-6, 3-6 by Mečíř in the quarterfinals (their last meeting, incidentally); in the semifinal “Big Cat” was relatively close to beat Edberg in straights too. Mečíř proved to be a formidable opponent for all top players; against serve-and-volleyers, he could retrieve more effectively than others, while against Wilander (or other guys with a defensive attitude), he could outmanoeuvre the patient Swede on the baseline with sharper angles of his flat, deceptive strokes, and unexpected trips to the net. Technically, he was unparalleled – despite his stature, he was not a big server; his upper body was unusually elongated, allowing him to move like a player 10 cm shorter. Although primarily a baseliner, his volley technique was flawless, enabling him to seamlessly transition to serve-and-volley when necessary. He possessed a knack for dismantling his opponents, forcing them to alter or adapt their tactics to stand a chance against him. Even after many years, this is how Wilander remembers Mečíř: “Best anticipation of any player in our generation for sure. The most flexible… and then crazy good hands. He is the best player in the world to not have won a Slam, for sure. No question in my mind. He should have won three or four.” I wrote more about their rivalry analyzing their first meeting as well as matches at the US Open ’86 (fourth round) and ’87 (quarterfinal).
Mečíř’s career came to an abrupt end at the young age of 26 due to a deteriorating back injury. His final significant match took place just a few months earlier, where he faced Boris Becker in the fourth round of the Australian Open. What he could have won as a player in the early 90s, he “won” as a coach in the late 90s, helping fellow Slovak Karol Kučera to reach the Top 10. To me, Mečíř ranks as the fifth-best player of the 1980s among those who were born in the 1960s, trailing only behind the four multiple Grand Slam champions: Lendl, Becker, Edberg and Wilander.
He captured Masters ’87 in doubles (London), alongside Tomáš Šmíd. What’s insane about that triumph, the Czechoslovaks defeated the Swedish pair Edberg/Järryd twice in five-setters, first at the group stage, then in the semifinal – it was possible only in 1987 due to the draw after the ’round robin’.
Career record: 262–122 [ 117 events ]
Career titles: 11
Highest ranking: No. 4
Best GS results:
Australian Open (runner-up 1989; quarterfinal 1987)
Roland Garros (semifinal 1987)
Wimbledon (semifinal 1988; quarterfinal 1986)
US Open (runner-up 1986; quarterfinal 1987)
Olympic gold medal (Seoul 1988)
World Team Cup champion 1987
Hopman Cup champion 1989
This entry was posted in Players. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Miloslav Mečíř

  1. Voo de Mar says:
    Activity: 1982 – 1990

    Five-setters: 8–6 (57%)
    Tie-breaks: 51–43 (52%)
    Deciding 3rd set TB: 1-2 (33%)

    Defeats by retirement: 0
    Walkovers given: 1

Leave a Reply