Davidovich Fokina: 'The Drop Shot Is Part Of Me’
With fans in the stands of the Estadio Millennium roaring around him, 19-year-old Alejandro Davidovich Fokina fell to his knees on the Portuguese clay and lowered his head to the red dirt in disbelief. The #NextGenATP Spaniard had just advanced to the semi-finals of the Millennium Estoril Open after third seed Gael Monfils hit a forehand into the net.
Davidovich Fokina arrived in Estoril without a tour-level win. But after defeating three players inside the Top 60 of the ATP Rankings in the main draw, the qualifier is into his first ATP Tour semi-finals.
“It’s amazing to win against a legend like Monfils and in a tough match like that,” Davidovich Fokina told ATPTour.com after his two-hour, 15-minute victory. “It’s amazing for me.”
Before the Grand Prix Hassan II in Marrakech last month, Davidovich Fokina had never played an ATP Tour match. While he qualified there and pushed German veteran Philipp Kohlschreiber in a tight two-setter, he never expected this.
“Never. To beat a legend like Monfils, I never expected that,” Davidovich Fokina said. “I feel so good. I’m so glad to get to play tomorrow.”
It wasn’t just that he defeated the Frenchman, but how he did it. Davidovich Fokina, at a career-best 167th in the ATP Rankings, matched Monfils’ entertaining play with his own, consistently using his drop shot to great effect against the speedy third seed, and showing no fear by diving for volleys at the net multiple times.
Despite being in the middle of a tight match, Monfils rushed to Davidovich Fokina’s side of the court after one of the Spaniard’s dives to make sure he was okay. Although Monfils lost, he met the teen with a big smile and friendly handshake.
“He told me ‘Good luck with the rest of the tournament and see you in Madrid’,” Davidovich Fokina remembered. “It’s amazing and to beat him is incredible. The way he was nice to me when I fell down, he asked me if I was okay, he’s a nice guy. A very nice guy.”
The Monfils win is his biggest yet. Not only did Davidovich Fokina show grit in the second set, saving a break point that would have allowed Monfils to serve for the match, but he gave fans a preview of what should be an entertaining game to watch for years to come.
“He’s everywhere,” Davidovich Fokina said of Monfils. “I had to play smart against him and the drop shot is my best shot and I had to use it a lot against him.
“Always,” the teenager said of how often he favours his drop shot. “[I learned it] when I was three years old. It’s a part of me.”
Davidovich began playing tennis at three with his father, a half-Swede, half-Russian boxer. His mother is Russian. While the #NextGenATP player is Spanish, he believes his game is most like Serbian Novak Djokovic’s. Two years ago, he won the Wimbledon Boys’ Singles Championship. Was that title bigger for him than his run in Portugal?
“Tough question, but this week [is better],” Davidovich Fokina said. “I’ve played against better players than me, legends like Monfils. To beat them is amazing.”
Davidovich Fokina’s performance has propelled him into contention in the ATP Race To Milan. On Monday, he will climb to at least 10th place as he seeks his first appearance at the Next Gen ATP Finals.
“I want to go this year. I want to be there for sure,” Davidovich Fokina said. “That and break into the Top 100.”
But for now, he is solely focusing on competing in Estoril. Davidovich will face Uruguayan Pablo Cuevas for a spot in his first ATP Tour final.
“I’m just focused on playing the next match. I’m not focusing on being in the semi-finals or anything like that,” he said. “I’m focusing on every match, every point and I’m ready to play tomorrow.
“I can compete here now with every player that is in front of me. I’m ready for the next one.”