Fucsovics No Federer Worshipper, Not This Time
Hungarian faces Federer in Australian Open fourth round for a second time
In the picturesque setting of Gstaad, 1,050 metres above sea level, Marton Fucsovics is deep in talks with Janko Tipsarevic during lunch at the major ski resort, a popular destination among the international jet set. This week, the ATP Tour’s in town for the 2012 J. Safra Sarasin Swiss Open Gstaad.
Tipsarevic, at the peak of his powers, asks, “What is your goal until the end of the year?”
“I’d like to be around 300,” says the 20-year-old, in all seriousness.
Tipsarevic gives the answer short shrift… Once upon a time, the Serbian was the world’s best junior, but found the transition from big fish in a small pool to the pros, tricky. He’s heard it before.
Finishing his mouthful, Tipsarevic looks up and says, “I think… the way you’re playing, around 300 is a ‘chicken’ goal for the end of the year.”
The 2001 Australian Open junior champion, now at a career-high No. 8 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, starts by telling the World No. 534, “I was talented as a kid, but I was too chicken to set up a proper goal.
“You need to accept the challenge of setting up a goal, and failing. If you fail, it’s okay, but if you don’t give your best in trying to succeed, that’s not okay.
“Even though you think you have time, the years are passing by so fast. Your career is going so fast.”
Fucsovics looks on, in silence, hanging on every word.
Tipsarevic asks, “You try to copy [Marat] Safin, right?”
Fucsovics nods in agreement. The former World No. 1 is an idol.
“You play close to the lines like Safin does. But I can assure you by playing higher over the net, you’ll get better depth in the long run and players at Challengers don’t like it.”
After a few days together on the court and in the gym, Tipsarevic and Fucsovics part company. The tutor hopes to have pointed the Hungarian in the right direction.
Five further years pass until Fucsovics breaks into the Top 100…
“I thought when I was the junior No. 1, I would easily get to the Top 100,” said Fucsovics, who won the 2009 Wimbledon junior crown (d. Benjamin Mitchell) without losing a set. “But it was a different story.
“I really wasn’t very good at 18 or 19, I’d lost my way. I was around 600, playing [ITF] Futures events in Asia and losing to older guys. I remember returning home and saying to my parents [Joszef and Edit] that I could not do it anymore.
“They always helped me a lot, they weren’t tennis players. But they were very good tennis parents. Always next to the court, quiet, calm, and let me do what I wanted to do.
“I stopped playing for six weeks, two months, without touching a racquet. I needed that break to re-evaluate, so when I returned, I was fully focused on getting into the Top 100. I kept on fighting as it was my dream.”
The softly spoken Fucsovics, who is succinct in his answers to questions, remembers his time with Tipsarevic fondly. “Since breaking into the Top 100, a few years ago, I’ve realised what Janko meant,” says the 27-year-old. “I know it helps at times. It was good advice.”
Now he will prepare for a second shot at beating another one of his childhood idols, Roger Federer, in an Australian Open fourth-round clash. Fucsovics lost 6-4, 7-6(3), 6-2 in their 2018 match, three years after eye-opening practice sessions with Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka at the 2015 Nitto ATP Finals in London.
On Sunday, he'll be a rival to Federer once more and Fucsovics believes he has the experience and, importantly, the confidence to continue his Melbourne run.
With little emotion, but plenty of Hungarian supporters courtside, he's already overcome No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov, the 2019 Next Gen ATP Finals champion Jannik Sinner and Tommy Paul, who under the guidance of new coach Brad Stine, looks set for a solid season.
“It’s not going to be easy against Roger, but I am playing the best tennis of my career,” said Fucsovics, after beating Paul 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 in the third round on Friday. “I feel like I’m getting older, more mature and experienced, but I’m still working hard. Since I changed my coaches two months ago, we’ve been working on my serve day-by-day.
“I was a newcomer two years ago, it was my first year in the Top 100. I was very hungry and positive. Two years ago, against Roger, it was a sensation to reach the fourth round and play my idol. We played in the 2019 Dubai quarter-finals and I was close to the winning the first set. I now have more experience, I’m stronger than two years ago, and I really want to beat him.”
Much has changed since January 2018. Fucsovics, who prides himself on his physical conditioning, picked up the Banque Eric Sturdza Geneva Open (d. Gojowczyk) title in May that year, becoming the first Hungarian man to capture an ATP Tour title in 36 seasons since Balazs Taroczy, who won 13 tournaments between 1974 and 1982. Twelve months ago, Fucsovics also reached his second final at the Sofia Open (l. to Medvedev).
From the clay courts of his childhood at the Nyiregyhazi Tenisz Club, 130 miles east of Budapest, via three years training in Germany from the age of 15, to three further years in France, Fucsovics can now be found in Hungary’s capital at the Budai Tenisz Club, with indoor hard courts and a bigger gym.
He has found a happy balance in his life. “The key is to work hard before tournaments and to arrive with a fresh mind and physically,” said Fucsovics. “I don’t like to play week after week, I like going home for a few days, to refuel the tank. In beating Shapovalov, Sinner and Paul so far this week, I've felt fresh. I've been clear on my tactics and I've served well, backing up my groundstrokes.”
After experiencing personal issues in 2019, Fucsovics' work with Miklos Jancso and Zoltan Nagy is already having a positive impact. His goal is to better his career-high of No. 31, attained on 4 March last year, and the 2020 Australian Open may well provide the springboard he needs to get there.
“I want to make my country proud. I want to be better and better.”
Hailing from a country of footballers, water polo, swimmers, handball players and fencers, Fucsovics and WTA pro Timea Babos are both changing Hungary’s view of tennis.