The Davis Cup It was the great pending account of the Argentine sport until a formidable quartet canceled the debt. It will be impossible not to associate Mayer with the deed of that November 27, 2016 in Zagreb.
The 34-year-old from Corrientes does not feel comfortable in the role of Argentine racquet legend. He always handled himself in a humble, sincere way, but without getting on any horse that did not belong to him. “This is my last conference, I don’t want to be in front of the microphones anymore”, released at the Racket Club, venue of the Challenger in Buenos Aires. Minutes later, between the rush to see his family and the attention to the media, he spoke with Ámbito.
Mayer debuted professionally in tennis in 2003. Owner of a frank style, without speculation, all or nothing, the “Yacaré” reached the 21st position in the ATP ranking in 2015. He won the Hamburg titles in 2014 and 2017 and played another three end. Although all five definitions were on powder, his tennis was ideal for the fast courts.
The explosive way of playing, his titles, the Davis Cup episodes, the fame, among several other things, put him in the first line of fire before flashes and microphones, a price that the Corrientes cost him to manage. Over time, in 2019, panic attacks and the consequent loss of sports appeared. The decision to walk away from tennis fell naturally between the pandemic and some adverse outcomes.
– What was the most expensive thing about playing tennis?
The cost, in my case, is that I don’t like being too exposed. That generated more pressure, more stress on a day-to-day basis. There were many moments when I did not like it. But it was what he had to pay to play tennis well, you see, ha. One is not ready with 22, 23 years, to generate that exposure.
– Do you feel more liberated, more relaxed, after the retreat?
I am much calmer really. I had not been having a good time, the competition was very difficult for me. If you cannot compete well in this sport, it is useless. I think it was okay. Up to here we come.
That “Up to here we come” He executes it seriously, in clear proof that he had already exceeded the desired limits. The elite sport knows of feats, but also of inexplicable pressures.
Ostrava, Czech Republic. July 11, 2009. The young Leonardo Mayer, 22, jumps into the super fast acrylic of Cez Arena with José Acasuso to face Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych, the local double. The European team would finally win the series 3-2, but the “Yacaré” would never forget his Davis Cup debut in a team led by Juan Martin del Potro. A story of reciprocated love was beginning; the “Yacaré” always brought out the best of himself in the legendary contest. He finished with a 15-9 record, with 11 wins and 4 losses in singles.
Almost six years later, Corrientes himself would be the protagonist of an event as colossal as it is harmful. On March 7, 2015, at the armed tubular stadium in Tecnópolis, he beat Brazilian Joao Souza by 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 5-7, 5-7 and 15-13 in 6 hours and 42 minutes. It was about Longest singles match in Salad Bowl history, and the third longest of the Open Era of tennis. Despite the effort, he had energy left to jump for joy. Then came the tears.
Mayer concluded that game with his feet badly injured, unable to walk – he had physical consequences all season – and in a nearby hospital to apply serum due to wear and dehydration. Later, the International Tennis Federation implemented the tie break in the fifth set. In 2018 the format of the contest changed and all the clashes are played to the best of three sets.
After that episode, “Leo” became a tennis superhero for the national fans. Winning an epic battle, in which Argentina was forced to win, raised him to the maximum popularity.
– Was the affection of the people and the respect of your peers the best?
That is spectacular, obviously. It’s the cutest thing in tennis. The best thing was when I won and people applauded me.
– Beyond social networks, were you able to talk with your colleagues about that feat?
I spoke with them, but they are still in the campaign and I am calmer.
– You still do not assume that you are a shining figure of Argentine tennis?
I am going to convince myself, but it is difficult with the maelstrom of the circuit, trips, matches. You win a tournament on a Sunday and on Tuesday you already play against another. You never look back, you have to look forward because otherwise you win. I still haven’t cut that.
Mayer smiles, looks at his cell phone. He wants to go eat with his family. Receive the greetings of many people who are immersed in the world of tennis. Also the affection of the fans. The most emotional moment was lived minutes before in the center court of the Racket when Gabriela Sabatini He handed him a plaque to recognize him.
Its history is intimately linked to a name: Daniel Orsanic. When the former doubles player took over as Argentine captain at the end of 2014, Del Potro was struggling with injuries to his wrist. Weeks earlier, with Martín Jaite on the bench, it was Mayer who supported the national team in the World Group in the playoff against Israel, played in the USA.
Correntino’s victory over Souza will not go down in history simply because of its duration, but because it gave Orsanic’s project an identity. In those days the national cast faced the series with a blue and white flag that read “A team, a country, a dream.” It was the summary of the idea that the captain sought to impose: that there should not be a cluster of figures and their egos, but a group that would consolidate to win the Davis Cup. Without a win against Brazil, the final in Zagreb would not have existed.
The culminating point came in 2016, with the great Argentine triumph. After the victories against Poland and Italy, it was time to travel to Glasgow to face Great Britain, the last champion. “Delpo” defeated Andy Murray on Friday and Argentina reached Sunday 2-1 up. Sebastián Gutiérrez, technical assistant, had the Tandilense warm up before the fifth point to confuse the rival. The trap had worked: the locals arranged for Daniel Evans to play, whom Mayer beat in four sets.
Two months later Argentina was crowned in Zagreb in one of the biggest sporting episodes in national history. The Corrientes only played twice, but his task was already done.
– Were you happy while you played tennis?
I was happy. There were moments that no, but in the majority I was. It left me a lot, an impressive constancy in achieving a goal. That in tennis is incredible, it gives you a job, a discipline that is important on a day-to-day basis. There are days when you don’t want to train and you have to do it the same, you can’t say no. That gives you a very strong mindset.
– Just as technique and tactics are practiced, is there a lack of training for the mental and emotional?
I do not know if it is missing, but I think that sometimes an athlete is required more than a politician. And it is criticized more. Athletes are crushed more than people who are supposedly ready to do things. We are here to play tennis, not to explain what is happening.
– What if your children tell you that they want to play tennis?
I’d tell them to train with someone else, not with me, haha. I would love for them to play, I support them. In a team sport too. If they choose tennis I can give them a little more tools for what they are going to face.
They passed 376 matches at the ATP level, of which they won 179. Fierce clashes with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, or Del Potro himself. This year, after losing in the Wimbledon qualifier to Marco Trungelliti from Santiago, Mayer reached a decision. No longer willing to train, it was time to retire. “I want to stay involved in tennis, try to help with everything that I learned. I would be a coach, I would live it calmer from the outside “, he tells this medium before meeting his wife and three children.
It is rare to see the “Yacaré” as “civil”. Their days of bags and rackets are long gone. Now he wears a white T-shirt with the iconic truck used by hippies from the 60s to get around. Quite a reference: now a new journey begins for Mayer.