Whatever the situation, a smile is never far from the face of Leonardo Mayer. Genuine and articulate, the Argentine was emotional on what was a special day in his life: the former No. 21 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and winner of two ATP Tour titles announced his retirement from tennis at midday on Thursday.
“I had a kind of internal battle. Even when I came back from Wimbledon I told myself: ‘I’m going to stop playing for a while and see how I feel,’” said Mayer. “So I gradually wound down from playing and, honestly, I felt fine. With plenty of barbecues and things to do at home, I said: ‘That’s it, everything I’ve done has been perfect and I’m not a tennis player anymore.’
“Tennis brought me so much joy and it’s been part of my life since I was little. But I feel that it’s time to end this wonderful period of being a player,” said the father of Valentino (4) and twins Camilo and Pedro (1) in a message he posted on social media. “Thank you to my wife Milagros, who was part of all my experiences and provided vital support. We have three beautiful children and they are the biggest trophies.”
Mayer grew up in a sporting environment, with tennis in particular being part of life at home early on for the player from Corrientes. After picking up a racquet for the first time at eight years of age, it was rarely far from his hands.
The 34-year-old Argentine never lost his dedication and passion as he built his career; tennis always came first. He turned pro in 2003, reaching No. 21 in the FedEx ATP Rankings in 2015 and almost ending 10 consecutive seasons in the Top 100 (2009-15, 2017-18). Through talent and hard work, he forged himself a solid and unfaltering game and carried himself with unwavering confidence on court.
What will he do with his time now that he has hung up his racquet?
“Yesterday, I went to the gym while my children were having a nap, but only for a while, so that my shoulder doesn’t hurt,” said Mayer. “I’ve started living as a stay-at-home dad, taking care of the house, looking after the garden… I cook a lot of barbecues, eat whatever I want, take care of the kids; all the things I never used to do because I had to look after myself. I can even play football matches now.
“I’ve had a good career. Yes, there are a few specific matches I could have won or played better in, but that’s just the way it is. That’s how you build a career and sometimes it’s not easy.”
Getting his first ATP point, entering the Top 100, winning an ATP tournament and being able to travel on the tour with his family are Mayer’s favourite memories. Among those memories is a match in Shanghai in 2014 that, despite being bittersweet, is impossible to forget.
He could barely hide his tears when he approached the net to shake hands with an opponent who had seen off everything the Argentine could throw at him. Partly due to bad fortune and partly because of Roger Federer’s magic, victory slipped through Mayer’s fingers the first time he faced the Swiss, who progressed after a 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(7) victory in which Mayer had five match points.
“That match was one of the luckiest I’ve played in my career,” Federer said several years later when he clashed with him again at the US Open.
“I still find that match unbelievable, because I never thought I would have a chance to beat him on that occasion,” Mayer said. “The day after losing I was happy, it’s very difficult to play against someone you admire that much; you always see them on TV and you can’t imagine playing against them.
“It was important to me to play with Federer even though I didn’t beat him. If I’d beaten him it would only have given me 45 more points at the time and allowed me to say ‘I beat him,‘ that’s all.”
If there was one place on tour where Mayer was in his element it was Hamburg, which holds a special place in his heart. There, he won both of his ATP Tour titles, in 2014 and 2017, also reaching the final in 2018 at the event, where he holds a 15-4 career record.
“It was really crazy. I liked watching it on TV, and by chance when I got there I felt comfortable, I had nothing to complain about,” he joked. “The court was incredible, the balls, the city, the club, everything. I won with fast shots, slow shots, I liked everything because I felt like a winner there.”
Now a family man, Mayer became emotional when he talked about what tennis meant, and will continue to mean, in his life.
“Tennis was a very important part of my life, a school, a primary school, a secondary school, a university, I qualified and now I’ve retired,” he laughed. “A tennis career is wonderful, it’s very demanding. You grow up very early, with so much responsibility from older people and you miss out on certain things, but I have no complaints. I had a great time, I loved the journey I went on, I achieved what I wanted to and I learned so much from it.”
Such is his bond with the game, that Mayer is sure it will continue to be a part of his life.
“I want to stay involved in tennis, coaching someone. I like teaching and having a goal with a player,” he explained. “I like tennis, that will always be the case. It’s not a decision I struggled with, quite the opposite; I’m on good terms with tennis, we’re friends and we always will be.”