Even though Johnny Wilkinson spelt Milo's first name wrong, interesting choice for a favourite player from him.
Miloslav Mecir was always such a masterful presence
Here’s a name to remember: Miroslav Mecir. I remember him, anyway. I remember him well. And with huge admiration. Slovakian, or Czechoslovakian, as he would have been in the late Eighties when he was at his peak, he had an amazing run that took him to the Wimbledon semi-finals in 1988. Beautiful player. But what I loved about him was his humility. I mention Mecir because, in a strange way, he is important to me — like a lot of tennis players are.
I am a Wimbledon buff, I love the fortnight. When I was younger, I used to do queue early in the morning to get a ticket to rove around the outside courts.
And after the fortnight was over, I’d always buy the Wimbledon highlights video and watch it again and again. Yes — this may sound familiar — I got obsessive about it. I’d watch it and then, on holiday, drag my brother out on to the court to try to copy what I’d seen. You could see the look on his face sometimes: Jonny, this isn’t fun any more. And at that stage I’d set up a court next to the pool using sun loungers. I guess there were limits to how much fun that was for everyone else.
But why tennis is important to me is because of the impression that those players of the late Eighties and early Nineties made upon me. I think tennis is a great sport because it can showcase true athletes at their hard-working, talented best. I could learn a little bit from them, from people such as Mecir: players who bring their own, particular sporting qualities to the courts.
I’ve said before that Boris Becker is one of my all-time heroes. I loved him because he was a great player — that’s the obvious bit — but what I really liked was how he seemed to live every point, he so visibly made so much effort. He symbolised a never-say-die spirit. That’s why I liked Jimmy Connors, too: all that “never-die” courage, never consider losing a possibility, always fight on when you are two sets down and staring at defeat. When you are a 10 or 11-year-old and your dream is to become a professional sportsman, this is the sort of thing that can make a real impression on you.
Other favourites from that era included Henri Leconte and Michael Chang. But I’ll return to Mecir; him and Stefan Edberg, because there were strong elements of Mecir in Edberg, too.
What impressed me about them was the understated grace with which they went about their game. There was no sense of “look at me”. You felt they were good people who cared. This was especially true of Mecir, even down to the way he played. He could absolutely skin someone, yet never rub that opponent’s nose in the dust. It seemed you could be at the wrong end of a Mecir thrashing and yet proud of it.
Mecir could play beautiful tennis but would never make a big deal out of it. That’s the humility in him and it was that characteristic that I took away from watching him. That’s what your heroes are for, isn’t it? To admire and copy. So I said to myself back then, that if I am going to play sport, I want to behave like Mecir.