After returning to his beloved German grass courts in Stuttgart last week, Florian Mayer capped a dream week at the Gerry Weber Open, overcoming the odds and winning the biggest title of his career. The German veteran reached his first final in five years and fended off compatriot Alexander Zverev to take home the trophy. René Denfeld looks back at the final, which saw the 32-year-old grass connoisseur put on yet another masterclass of variation to unsettle his 19-year-old opponent.
Florian Mayer wrote a happy ending to his fairytale story at the Gerry Weber Open on Sunday.
The 32-year-old from Bayreuth in southern Germany came into to the biggest grass court event in Germany after a solid week in Stuttgart, winning several matches before he was stopped by top seed Roger Federer in two tiebreaks in the quarterfinals.
At the Gerry Weber Open, Mayer was forced to use his protected ranking to enter the main draw and was not entirely happy about it — lamenting having not received a wild card after his first round match.
A few days later, the German veteran played the final rally of the tournament and when Alexander Zverev‘s last forehand sailed long beyond the baseline, Mayer sank to his knees, in disbelief at what he had just accomplished.
“I would say it’s my biggest win in my career to win a 500 ATP event here in Germany on grass in Halle,” Mayer said. “If you see the list of champions in the past here and now my name is on the poster, on the list, I cannot believe it, really.”
Throughout the week, Mayer mentioned his struggles of the past two years several times. A string of injuries stopped him in the tracks of the autumn of his career and he hasn’t been 100 percent sure whether he’d be able to return to tennis’ biggest stages and the highest level.
The start of the match was closely contested with both players holding serve — dropping only a few points here and there — but in the sixth game of the first set, the 19-year-old blinked and hit several unforced errors, surrendering serve with a double fault. Although Zverev hit the shot of the day with a tweener winner in the opening set, the first was one-way traffic afterwards as Mayer weaving his web of variety all over his compatriot, who found himself tangled up in a mixture of flat groundstrokes, drops shots and big serves.
“I think I let him do a lot of things,” the teenager said. “I didn’t play as aggressive as I did the days before. I didn’t serve as well. So, those are big factors. He deserves to win, he was a much better player today. He played very well, played very aggressive. He knew what he had to do. I just didn’t play well.”
As the first set came to its conclusion, however, so did the veteran’s momentum. Zverev was quick to pounce on several of the 32-year-old’s second serves and broke right away to open the second set.
Still, whenever the teenager relinquished the initiative even slightly, Mayer rattled his opponent with a myriad of shots and recovered from his disadvantage to get the set back on serve at 3-3 — once again a result of Zverev double fault on break point, just like in the opening set.
Just like in the opener, the veteran continued to pull the strings, earning himself two match points on Zverev’s serve at 5-4 — but the 19-year-old saved the first with a service winner and a Mayer forehand missed the sideline by mere centimeters on the second. Afterwards, the set began to slip away from Mayer as Zverev put him under pressure just like at the beginning of the second, breaking serve and ultimately forcing a decider when Mayer buried a forehand return in the net.
“I was just saying to myself, ‘It was a little bit unlucky, fight for every point. Okay if I lose, then it’s okay but please fight for every point, give your best,'” Mayer said of his thoughts towards the end of the second. “I started to get a little bit tired at the end but I was just fighting and did this one break and luckily served it out at 5-3.”
The third set, however, mirrored the opening set in many ways — Zverev and Mayer held serve rather comfortably but it was the younger of the two Germans that blinked badly, dropping serve to love midway through the set — just like in the opener.
“I served worse than the days before, I did double faults in important moments,” Zverev said. “In the third set, the way he broke me, I missed four shots. That can’t happen. I had a lot of 30-all chances which I played really bad at.”
From there on out, Mayer remained in charge of the match and unlike in the second set, the veteran was able to close out the match on his fifth match point, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3.
With his win at the Gerry Weber Open, Mayer makes an impressive return to the game’s top level, particularly on his favorite surface. The current World No. 192 will jump back up into the Top 85 of the rankings on Monday and has already accomplished a goal he set himself — for the spring of next year, that is.
“It’s a special moment now for me to come back, to win a 500 tournament helps a lot to be back in the top 100 also,” Mayer said. “I mean with one tournament everything changes now for my ranking and to plan for the bigger tournaments in the future.”