Alex and Ingeborg met at a Munich bridge club, married in 1949, had a daughter, Clare, and in 1950 moved to the U.S., settling on Long Island. Mayer had been a lawyer in Europe, but because he would have had to return to school in order to practice in the U.S., he took a job as an elevator operator. Predictably, he soon tired of that and decided to make a living at what he loved most—tennis. He secured a position as a pro at a four-court complex in Brooklyn called Burwood, and has been teaching the game in and around New York City ever since. He and Ingeborg now live 30 miles outside the city in Mendham, N.J.
To this day Alex is the only coach Sandy and Gene have ever had. He introduced his sons to the sport when they were two by hanging a rubber ball from the ceiling and having them hit it, two-handed, with wooden paddles. Later, the practice sessions became stormy. "My father is a charming man," Gene says, "but he is very demanding. Things must always be done on his terms. He insisted that if we were going to play tennis, we had to take it seriously. There was a lot of yelling and screaming—by him. Sandy just accepted it. I would say, That's wrong,' but I'd do it anyway."
Sandy was once ranked 19th in the world. That was in 1973, the year he won the national intercollegiate title and knocked off top-seeded Nastase to reach the semifinals at Wimbledon. Since then he has performed erratically. He cracked the Top 10 in 1978, but he's now 35th on the computer and still trying to recover his form after breaking his hand at Wimbledon in 1979. He is married, has a 2-year-old daughter and lives in Atherton, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco.
Gene has never felt closer to Sandy. "When I was younger I don't think I appreciated him," Gene says. "He used to spend a lot of time rallying with me when he was a lot better." Recently the brothers met in the opening round of the U.S. Indoors in Memphis, the first time they had faced each other in years. Gene won, but he didn't enjoy it. Happily, they teamed in doubles and won.
Gene and Sandy are two of the game's finest doubles players, and they play together whenever their schedules permit. In 1979 they won the French Open, which Gene had won the year before with Hank Pfister, and last year they reached the semis at Wimbledon. In 1975 Sandy won the Wimbledon doubles crown with Vitas Gerulaitis.
Gene's first major triumph came at age nine when he won the 1965 Orange Bowl 10-and-under title. He defended successfully the next year and went on to win six U.S. age-group championships as a junior. From the beginning, the sport came easily to him. "I was a natural," he says. "Sandy had to work to be good. He had a very mechanical game and still does, something like Brian Gottfried's. I didn't have to work that hard."
When he was 13, Gene lost to someone his own age for the first time, a boy named Horace Reed. "I went out of my mind," Mayer says. "I was really impossible, screaming on the court, throwing a fit." Ingeborg Mayer, who was there, was appalled. She reported the scene to Alex, who promptly banned his son from the game for three months. Gene's deportment at tournaments improved dramatically, though even today he's not beyond bouncing a ball 15 feet into the air. Given current tennis behavior, he is merely a popgun among cannons.
All three Mayer children excelled in the classroom. "It was expected," says Gene, who never made less than an A in three years of high school. "Certain things were required of us, and getting good grades was one. If we did what our parents wanted, we got everything we needed. We weren't well-to-do, but our parents made us feel like millionaires."
Sandy went to Stanford on a tennis scholarship, and Gene followed. "I was heavily recruited by the Ivies, Berkeley and Stanford," he says. "I almost chose Columbia, but it didn't have much of a tennis team."
Rhonda, whom Gene had been seeing steadily through high school, went to Queens College in New York City. The separation, plus Mayer's desire to get out on the pro tour, were two reasons for his hurry at Stanford. He majored in political science. "I took an unbelievable number of units," he says. "It was a ridiculous load." He even skipped two semesters to play tournaments, taking courses that required only heavy reading and the writing of papers. In 1976, his senior year, he earned a respectable ranking of 48.