I don’t like to use the word ‘tragic’ in the context of tennis. It seems to me to be overused and wholly inappropriate given the world we live in.
But it’s difficult not to feel a pang of “something” hearing of Mario’s retirement at the age of only 26 – still very much in his prime.
We should probably also revisit the word “destiny” – or at least insist on a more comprehensive usage.
The trouble with referring to Fed’s 16 Slams, Rafa’s rise or (further down the scale) Milos’s breakthrough as “destiny” is that, for every Rafa we have an Ivo, a Kohlschreiber or a Seppi who will (very likely) end their days very respectably somewhere in the top 100, with only a handful of titles and no Slams to their name. That too is destiny.
And for every Pova, for every Novak, we have players like Haas, Seles, Dokic and of course, Mario – careers ravaged by injury, illness and misfortune. The dark underbelly of destiny that cruelly maintains that it’s (clearly) not "meant to be" for everyone.
I don’t know anyone with a bad word to say about Mario. He was naturally charismatic (having a “Ralph Macchio” babyface probably helped), but he also dealt admirably well with misfortune by using the downtime imposed upon him by mono to study for and complete a degree in Law. Alas his subsequent back troubles were to prove a battle too far and put paid to any meaningful return to the sport he invested much of his life in.
Most people remember him for what he very nearly achieved at Wimbledon, or for being the last player to beat Fed there before Rafa came and did what he did.
He seemed to me to combine his unique talent with an equally unique and seemingly irresistible boy-next-door look that made him both a fan and media darling throughout his years on tour.
I can’t come up with a better epitaph that embodies all of those qualities than something I heard on twitter – where else? (hat tip @LexiDV):
“Mario Ancic. The first player I ever took a day off from work to watch on my tv. He lost :(“.
Yep, he was that player.