Miloslav Mecir remembers the pride he felt the first time he saw a videotape of himself playing his seemingly effortless and impassive brand of tennis. "I looked to me to be quite natural," he says in English that can still be described as live from Slovakia. "I was very happy about this."
But something powerful compelled Mecir to look only once. "It is very strange," he says. "I know it is better for me not to feel anything about my game. Only to play."
Mecir is one of the few who has resisted the temptation to scrutinize his born-to-the-game gift. Most tennis aficionados have decided he is the most intriguing new star in the game. This year the 22-year-old Mecir has reached the finals in five of the eight tournaments he has entered, and has won four. On Sunday he beat John McEnroe 6-0, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 to win the WCT Finals in Dallas. It was his first victory over McEnroe in three tries and helped establish Mecir as a prime contender to win any one of this year's Grand Slam events.
Mecir dominated McEnroe both physically and mentally. During an ugly and prolonged McEnroe tantrum that cost him a penalty point in the third set, Mecir remained characteristically calm. "It's not very nice to play in such an atmosphere," he said later. "I told myself only to stay patient. I try to behave as my parents taught me."
After the outburst McEnroe's game sagged. Although he was impressive in defeating top-seeded Stefan Edberg in the semifinals, his performance against Mecir shows he has not fully reclaimed his ability to sustain concentration or to dig deep when the match is on the line. Mecir dispatched McEnroe with the same subtle but lethal style that first drew notice at last year's U.S. Open, where he upset Boris Becker before losing to Ivan Lendl in the finals. "Playing him is like bleeding to death," said Canadian pro Glenn Michibata after Mecir beat him in Auckland in January.
Though maddening to opponents, Mecir's game is beautiful to watch. The 6'3", 180-pound Mecir keeps his head as still and erect as a periscope when he strikes the ball. He prefers to play inside the baseline and take the ball early with short, smooth strokes that are next to impossible to read. Never overhitting the ball and always on balance, he sends back acutely angled blocks and spins that either force an error or allow him to close in and put away an easy volley.
When Mecir gets in trouble, he relies on the quickness in his muscled legs to run down shots. His ability to cover the court with long, even strides has earned him the nickname Big Cat. And according to Becker, Mecir's two-handed backhand is the best in the game.
"He's just too good for me," said Mats Wilander after Mecir beat him 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in the first round in Dallas. "You never feel like you're controlling the match. It feels like you're doing everything you can and it's still all up to him."
Indeed, Mecir has controlled Wilander and his fellow Swedes as well as any player in the world. Against Wilander, Edberg, Anders Jarryd and Joakim Nystrom, he has a remarkable 18-11 record, which has earned him another nickname: Swede Killer. "In two years," says Wilander, "I think Milos will be No. 1."
Mecir likes all the attention he has received of late, but he likes his mystique even more. When asked why he is one of the few top-ranked players without a coach, he says, "It is good for me that everyone else has one. They wonder why."