Delray Beach

Matija Pecotic's Incredible Story Is Straight From A Movie Script

Learn about the 33-year-old finance titan turned Delray Beach star
February 15, 2023
Matija Pecotic defeats Jack Sock in three sets on Tuesday in Delray Beach.
Andrew Patron
Matija Pecotic defeats Jack Sock in three sets on Tuesday in Delray Beach. By Andrew Eichenholz

Matija Pecotic is living his Hollywood Moment.

The 33-year-old is the Director of Capital Markets for a real estate investment company who signed in as an alternate for qualifying at the Delray Beach Open. The lefty not only received a spot, but reached his first ATP Tour main draw. On Tuesday evening, he upset former Top 10 star Jack Sock to reach the second round.

Not bad for someone who worked his office job on Monday after qualifying.

But to fully understand Pecotic’s road to this point takes revisiting his roots. The Croatian was born in 1989 and in 1993, his family was still in Belgrade, which was entrenched in war. Matija’s father, orthopedic surgeon Goran, received a call from a friend who had just travelled to Malta. Recruitment was underway for an orthopedic surgeon.

“If he got there within a few days he might have had a shot to get the position. So he flew there by himself and found a base [and] rented a house. It’s not easy,” Pecotic told “People say there’s so much pressure playing this match. But if you really think about what he did, he was 40 years old, [had] two kids, hyperinflation [was] going on in the country. All your life’s possessions became worthless and you had to move to a country where you didn’t speak the local language and figure it out.

“Talk about pressure. That’s real pressure.”

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The Pecotic Family followed Goran to Malta, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. The country is not a tennis hotbed to say the least. In fact, Matija took to European team handball as he grew up and other hobbies he had, including spearfishing.

Pecotic never cracked the Top 1,000 in the ITF Junior Rankings. But he decided to mail DVDs of his game to college coaches in the United States. One of the coaches who replied was Glenn Michibata, then the head coach at Princeton University.

“Instead of throwing it in the trash, he said, ‘This kid is just different. And I don’t know what it is, but I’m going to entertain a conversation with him,’” Pecotic said. “If it were not for Glenn, I wouldn’t have gotten to the U.S.”

Billy Pate, who became the Princeton head coach Pecotic’s senior year, laughed thinking about how the lefty ended up at the Ivy League school.

“I get an email now and you have a guy who’s ranked around 1,000, you usually don’t recruit them necessarily unless they only played one or two ITF events and that’s why. So it wasn’t like he had this high ranking going for him,” Pate said. “He told me he went to a high school in Malta where there was a castle type of school with a moat around it and a goat in the front yard.”

Watch Pecotic Complete His ATP Main Draw Debut Win:

Pecotic became a star at Princeton, where he was a three-time Ivy League Player of the Year and climbed as high as No. 2 in the college tennis rankings. He took particular pride in his performance against fellow Ivy League student-athletes, tallying 22 consecutive wins against them.

“Sometimes it got personal in these Ivy League matches because you were playing for your school, you’d wait for these matches all year long. You kind of know who you’re going to play more or less, so I just had to visualise all these opponents and just visualise taking them down one by one,” Pecotic said. “I would print out their pictures on large A4 paper and post them up on my wall in my dorm. I would just put a big red ‘X’ through each one when I got through with them and I did that 22 times in a row.”

According to Pate, Pecotic developed an intimidation factor by the end of his college career.

“He’s got a little bit of the Nadal-like game and he’s got a little bit of a Nadal-type fierceness, where [he has] the big physical energy moving around,” Pate said. “He has a lot of routines he does and also values the fitness and the gym aspect of it and the grind, so I think he’s got a lot of those elements.”

After finishing school aged 24, Pecotic wasted little time climbing the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. He began his professional career in 2014 and ascended to a career-high World No. 206 in 2015. But before the 2016 Australian Open, he underwent stomach surgery and contracted a serious staph infection that kept him bedridden for eight months.

During that time, he sat for the GMAT Exam and applied to business school. Pecotic then attended Harvard Business School and between his final exams and graduation in May 2019, he won an ITF Futures event in Cancun.

“All of a sudden he was like, ‘I’ve got another degree, but I just won a Futures and I’ve got some points, let me go see what I can do with this again, I’m back,’” Pate recalled.

The lefty returned to the Top 400 by the end of the year, but the Covid-19 pandemic hindered his efforts. Later that year at the Sofia Open he signed in as an alternate for qualifying, much like he did in Delray Beach. He was set to play former Top 10 star Gilles Simon on centre court, but withdrew due to illness just before the match, taking away that chance.

With various travel restrictions in place and other pandemic-related roadblocks, Pecotic began to turn his attention to the business world. Today he is the Director of Capital Markets for Wexford Real Estate Investors, an affiliate of the $4 billion investment firm Wexford Capital.

Despite working normal 9-6 hours, he tries to play tennis as often as he can. He often hits with his boss, who is in his 70s. Last Sunday, Pecotic coincidentally ran into Citi Open Chairman Mark Ein.

“He said, ‘Do you want to hit this week? So we played on Monday and then Wednesday’,” Ein said. “After he won his first [qualifying] match against Stefan [Kozlov] he said, ‘You were the only person I hit with this week.’ And it was on clay!”

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If Pecotic did not receive an alternate spot in the Delray Beach qualifying draw, they were going to hit for a third time on Saturday. Instead the Croatian faced Kozlov, then eliminated two-time Australian Open quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren in the final round of qualifying with the support of former World No. 12 Dominik Hrbaty, a longtime friend of Pecotic’s boss.

What has stood out most during his dream run is Pecotic’s passion for the sport.

“The fact that he asked me if I wanted to play with him shows me how much he loves the sport. He wants every opportunity to play,” Ein said. “So I think that was evidence of how much he loves it that as soon as he saw me he just said he wanted to get a chance to literally get out of work and get a hit. We were scheduling the hit around his meetings.”

Ein later added: “[His story] is so fantastic. This is really a Cinderella story unlike very many.”

Pecotic Checks In From His Office Wednesday:

After working at the office Monday, Pecotic was getting ready for his match Tuesday evening when a friend and mentor, Gordon Uehling, told him a story about 16-year-old David Filer IV from South Bend, Indiana.

“There’s a famous story about him in the juniors where he won a match where he was down 6-0, 5-0, 40/0 and he clawed back and found a way to win. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with a serious form of brain cancer and he fought it off, just the way he fought when he was down 6-0, 5-0, 40/0,” Pecotic said. “Just a couple weeks ago I think it came back and they delivered some really tough news to him and he doesn’t have a lot of time to live. That just put things into perspective.”

(Learn More About Filer IV In The South Bend Tribune)

<a href=''>Matija Pecotic</a>
Photo Credit: Andrew Patron
So when Pecotic lost the first four games of his match against Sock, he was thinking about Filer IV.

“I thought of this kid, who is fighting and enjoying every day that he has on the planet and what he would give to be out on the court there,” said Pecotic, who rallied against Sock to win in three sets. “I just said, ‘Keep digging, keep your head down, keep your emotions in check and don’t give up.’ If I can dedicate this win to someone, I’d like to dedicate it to him.”

This is Pecotic’s Hollywood Moment, one he worked towards his whole life. But the humble 33-year-old, who is in the office Wednesday ahead of his second-round match against Marcos Giron, is using the opportunity to thank all those around him who have helped put him in this position.

“Were it not for my first backer out of Princeton, I wouldn’t have even been able to play professionally. Were it not for these incredible guys in Boston that I met in business school who convinced me that I should dream and give tennis another shot, I wouldn’t be here,” Pecotic said. “I feel so privileged and there are just so many people that should be part of this victory. This is a lot more than just a win for me.”

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