The photo in the newspaper shows a grey, damp, cold, Soviet Union looking morning in the city of Minsk. The caption below the photo reads, ‘The Youngest Participant of the Marathon – six-year-old Maxim Mirnyi with his Dad, Nikolay Mirnyi.’ Running a marathon requires endurance and persistence. That they did it together would be a sign of the times to come – father and son striving together for a common goal.
Nikolay Mirnyi is a large man with wide shoulders, bear-like hands and very big feet. Yet, for all his bear-like appearance, the father of three boys is more of a gentle giant than a menace. Get to know Nikolay intimately and you will discover a jovial, kind and very candid man.
But it is his candidness which most draws your attention to Nikolay. Some years ago, he wrote a book on his and Max’s journey together. The title is The Peaceful Tennis. As ‘Mirnyi’ means ‘peaceful’ in Russian. I was fortunate enough that Nikolay gave me one of the English translated copies. The book is 239 pages of memoirs, interviews, diaries and testimonials from other players. It is a beautiful story of a father’s love for his son, and in return, his son’s obedience to the father, while the seed of tennis greatness germinated inside of his spirit. I have selected certain passages from the father, diaries from pre-teen Max and an interview that Max gave after he achieved a career-high singles ranking of no. 18. The beauty of Nikolay’s dream in the beginning was not tennis stardom, but rather, just an incredible urge to spend every waking hour of the day with his son. As tennis success begin to pile up, the dream was transferred to the tennis courts.
“I think you would agree that if one decides to open up his soul,” begins Nikolay Mirnyi, “one should go till the end.” What follows is a description detailing the early days of father and son.
“Approximately, at the age of 30, I started to realize my place in this life. My desire to raise my son was sometimes overwhelming. I did not expect back then that tennis will become Max’s main activity and that he will have such a breakthrough. I simply felt that my son got interested and it was enough. I wiped his nose, hiked up his pants, sometimes gave him a light spank (not really light), went to his practices, talked to him about everything in the world. Together we did some jogging in every kind of weather, played soccer, volleyball, basketball, went swimming. It was a background for tennis. This is how my son was getting ready for a future labor in the big sport. While taking care of Max, I was also working on myself. I was trying to become a better person morally, psychologically, and simply humanly.”
“They say it does not suit strong people, especially men, to describe their weaknesses. Taking care of my son I was also trying to find myself, but my wife kept saying ’Why are you doing all this? There is a coach there.’ But my intuition was telling me that I was doing the right thing.”
“Very soon everyday practices interchanged with tournaments all over Soviet Union. This became our life in the late 1980s. There were many victories, lots of joy and happiness, but also a lot of defeats and this is because, like others, Max played the tournaments for children 1-2 years older than him. Unfortunate starts, unrealized hopes, matches lost from ‘match point’, lack of money; we went through all of this.”