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Alejandro Davidovich Fokina reached his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.

Why Davidovich Fokina Added A Marathon Legend To His Team

Spaniard hired the European and World Champion marathoner earlier this season

Tennis matches are often described as being a ‘marathon’ when they run on significantly longer than normal. It is also commonly said that players should ‘pace themselves’ through a season, rather than ‘sprint’ for a single result.

Tennis expressions frequently borrow wisdom from the world of athletics. But Alejandro Davidovich Fokina has taken it one step further by adding a Spanish marathon legend, Martin Fiz, to his coaching team.

Fiz was the European Champion at Helsinki 1994, World Champion at Gothenburg in 1995 and he finished fourth at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta – all in marathon running. These are just the greatest achievements in the storied career of the Spanish athlete, who joined Davidovich Fokina's team last December.

The athlete did not hesitate to accept the proposal from Jorge Aguirre, Davidovich Fokina’s coach, which was initially sent to him via Instagram. Fiz, who was on holiday in Marbella, immediately booked a date to take a closer look at the project that captivated him from the outset.

“After seeing the message, we met up and I accepted immediately,” Fiz explained to ATPTour.com. “I thought it was a good offer based on everything Jorge had told me about Alex. There were similarities between their needs and the effort it takes to run a marathon; the strategy, the hard work and never throwing in the towel. A match or a long-distance race can be turned around at any moment.”

Contrary to what might seem obvious, the goal of his addition into the team was not to work on the World No. 48’s stamina. His fitness coach continues to be Cesar Diaz.

“I’m in no doubt that he is very talented physically. In fact, when we did a series of 200-metre races, he beat me,” Fiz said. “Every training session we do together for him is a competition. He’s a winner. He even likes winning in cards, but you have to win matches from start to finish.” 

It is in this area that Fiz has taken the reins. He is known as an authority on sport, a champion with a culture of sacrifice as his hallmark. His main goal is to fine-tune Davidovich Fokina’s mental game.

“I’m the link between his psychologist and his fitness coach. But fundamentally, I focus on the psychological side because I come from a tough sport where you have to work hard, where there are ups and downs, and that’s what I try to transmit to Alex,” Fiz explained.

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Davidovich Fokina’s coach understood that a voice with experience in an event as demanding as the marathon would add quality to the team. Above all, Aguirre aims to fight against a negative quality that all too often plagues the hopes of youngsters: immediacy.

“The tendency is currently for young people to be very focussed on the short term,” Aguirre said. “They look for immediate results. As soon as they work extra hard or make a sacrifice, they want to see the results straight away. But tennis is actually a long-distance race, long term, and you have to take it week by week. So I thought that the mentality of a number one marathon runner might help us.” 

Over telephone calls, video calls and WhatsApp messages, Davidovich Fokina and his team maintain constant contact with Fiz while on the ATP Tour.

“Alex is a 21-year-old player who is like a wild horse, pure energy and sometimes he wants things to happen too quickly,” Aguirre said. “He needed help understanding that there is a process. Martin brings us his experiences from outside of tennis, which can be really useful to us if we use them correctly.”

But what is the key message that Fiz wants to transmit to Davidovich Fokina?

“The only thing I repeat to him is to believe in himself in difficult moments, to continue even if he loses a set,” Fiz responded. “You have to keep going. I want him to be mentally tough, to have a strong mind. When I weigh it up, I always put much more emphasis on the mental side than the physical.”

Few can understand the culture of sacrifice like a marathon runner and this is the picture Fiz tries to paint in every conversation with Davidovich Fokina: “When he sits in his chair in a match, I want him to see the image of Fiz working like a dog in 40 degrees in a marathon and having to carry on. That’s what I want to transmit and what he is currently fighting for.” 

This and the work that he has already been doing with the whole team has started to bear its fruit in early 2021. The Andalusian has climbed to a career high No. 48 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, reached his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters and boasts a positive win-loss record (10-7).

“He’s improved the quality of his footwork, his strike is more stable on the forehand and he’s serving better,” Aguirre said. “A series of circumstances have presented themselves and he’s ambitious, he’s hungry to make his mark on tour. I think he is confident enough to make a name for himself little by little.”