The Ironman Of Tennis: Why Fucsovics is Tennis' Most Underrated Player
Editor's Note: Marton Fucsovics upset 2014 champion and former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka in a five-set marathon on Wednesday to reach the third round of the Australian Open. This feature was originally published on 4 October 2020.
Tennis is not the most popular sport in Hungary, dwarfed by water polo, football and basketball among others.
So why did Marton Fucsovics, the first Hungarian man to reach the Roland Garros fourth round since Balazs Taroczy in 1984, pursue professional tennis rather than one of the team sports popular in his country?
“Maybe because I was very talented and I won a lot of matches, a lot of tournaments,” Fucsovics, who plays 13th seed Andrey Rublev on Monday, told ATPTour.com. “I was always the best in my age in Hungary. Even in Europe, I was winning some tournaments, so I was very successful and I really liked it.”
His parents, Joszef and Edit, are both accountants in the land-locked European country of 10 million people, which shares borders with Austria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine. Fucsovics got involved in tennis by coincidence. One day, his father played with friends at a club near their home in Nyiregyhaza, and five-year-old Marton followed along.
The Hungarian enjoyed hitting the ball. He kept up with the sport, also playing football and basketball until he was 12. Even as a kid, Fucsovics understood that he had a special set of skills on the tennis court.
“When I was young, it seemed so easy to play tennis, to travel, to win the matches,” said Fucsovics, who had no problem ditching football and basketball. “It was easy. I wasn’t hesitating at all. I was successful in tennis, I love to play tennis. It was a quick decision.”
At 15, Fucsovics was encouraged by Gyorgy Joo, whom he says is “like a second father”, to move abroad to pursue better training opportunities. Joo, who is Fucsovics’ manager, thought better coaching and practice partners would benefit him.
“We didn’t have enough tennis courts. We didn’t have hard courts or good coaches in Hungary. That’s why I wanted to go abroad,” Fucsovics said. “He told me if I wanted to be a professional tennis player, I had to go abroad and practise with better players.”
Fucsovics moved to Germany for three years, and his success took off. In July 2010, after winning the Wimbledon boys’ singles title without dropping a set, he became the junior World No. 1.
“My biggest dream was to compete against the superstars: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and all those guys,” Fucsovics said. “That [Wimbledon result] was just a station for me. Of course it was a huge result, but I had different dreams and goals.
“When I grew up, then it became really, really tough.”
At one point early in his professional career, Fucsovics went nearly two months without touching a racquet. Winning suddenly wasn’t as easy. He wanted to re-evaluate what he wanted to accomplish in tennis, with one of those goals being cracking the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.
It took until 17 July 2017 for Fucsovics to accomplish that feat. Two weeks later, Federer invited him to Switzerland to practise for a week.
“I had good strokes. I had a good serve. I had the potential to become a Top 100 or a Top 50 player. When I was practising with him, we had good chats,” Fucsovics said. “In these moments I felt that I really wanted to make it.”
Watch Highlights Of Fucsovics' Maiden ATP Tour Title At 2018 Geneva:
Since 23 October that year, he has not dropped from the elite group. A major reason why is his physique. There are few players on the ATP Tour as strong as Fucsovics, an attribute he takes pride in. Nobody would bat an eye if they saw him on a rugby pitch. When he was 16, he began using the bench press and performing bicep exercises.
“I was always a strong boy. I was working very hard physically, even when I was younger,” Fucsovics said. “I was a skinny boy when I was way younger, but my coaches told me that we had to work on my physique. I really wanted to improve. I was always a kid who wanted to improve and reach higher goals.”
When the Hungarian walks on the court, he believes he is fitter than his opponent. Fucsovics is soft-spoken, but he got excited recalling his first five-set win at a Grand Slam, which came over four hours and 50 minutes at this year’s US Open against Grigor Dimitrov.
“It gives a lot of confidence for me that I have the feeling that these guys really have to beat me and it’s not going to be easy for them,” Fucsovics said. “If they have a good day and everything is working for them, of course they can kill me on the court. But I will be standing there and running around and fighting for every ball.”
At the beginning of this year, Fucsovics believed he needed not just physical strength, but mental fortitude. That finally clicked into place when he earned what was the biggest win of his career against Denis Shapovalov in the first round of the Australian Open. Entering his Roland Garros opener against Daniil Medvedev, the Hungarian was 0-14 against Top 10 opposition.
“Before the match I didn’t have high expectations. I just wanted to enjoy Court Suzanne-Lenglen,” Fucsovics said. “I said to myself, ‘Just go on the court and enjoy the match. No expectations.’ If I lost the match it wouldn’t matter, the next one would come. I felt the ball very well. I was moving good, I was serving well. Everything was perfect.”
Fucsovics beat Medvedev in four sets and he hasn’t looked back. Against Rublev, he will try to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final, more than a decade after becoming junior World No. 1. Either way, World No. 63 Fucsovics, who has reached a career-high No. 31, is now setting his sights high.
“Hopefully I can win this match and finally play a quarter-final in a Grand Slam,” Fucsovics said. “But my dream is to be a Top 10 player one day.”
Whenever he heads back to Hungary, Fucsovics says a majority of people will recognise him wherever he goes. He has come a long way from the boy just tagging along with his father to the tennis club.
“Sometimes I feel the pressure on me from my country or from my family or from my friends. But I’m 28 years old now and I can say I’m very proud of myself. I’m proud of my career,” Fucsovics said. “Of course I don’t want to stop here.”