Dreams are intensely personal experiences. They usually take place late at night in a sleep-induced state of altered consciousness. There is something both magical and unreal about them. Afterwards we awake, wondering if the dream was real. Of course, the dream was real in the sense that it occurred, but what happened in the dream only happened in our mind, not in reality. I just experienced the opposite effect, a dream that came true in reality, but that I could never quite conceive of in my mind until it actually took place. The dream occurred in broad daylight, on Monday July 17th, when the newest version of the world rankings for the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour was released. For the first time ever, Hungarian Marton Fucsovics entered the top 100.
As the self-appointed personal record keeper of Fucsovics I felt a wave of elation, a euphoric shiver shot through me. It was only a bit later that I felt a bit of shame. The shame fell upon me because I knew that I had not been a true believer. I never really could imagine that Fucsovics would break into the top 100. His new world ranking had been as much a shock as it was a delight. Nevertheless, Fucsovics had reached this personal milestone with or without my belief. Such an achievement calls for celebration and retrospection. It is time to take a closer look at how Fucsovics got to where he is at today.
The Man From Nyrigehaza – The Long Road In Retrospect
Marton Fucsovics is not only one of the best Hungarian tennis players of the professional era, but most certainly the greatest player to ever hail from the eastern Hungarian city of Nyrigehaza. This is an unlikely place for a pro tennis player to come from. Most of Hungary’s other pro players came from the Budapest area. I have spent a fair amount of time in Nyrigehaza and must confess that I have never seen any tennis courts or sports facilities other than the ubiquitous soccer fields which can be found everywhere in Hungary. This makes Fucsovics achievement all the more impressive. When he first started smacking balls at the age of five with his father, few would have thought that exactly twenty years later he would be in the top 100. Obviously many of those close to him spotted his talent early on. He impressed with excellent results as a junior in 2010, with a Wimbledon championship and semifinal showings at the Australian and U.S. Opens.
Fucsovics joined the tour in 2011. It took him a couple of years to rise out of the lonely and lowly ranks of the satellite tour. To get from the 900’s to 300’s meant playing tiny events from the Czech Republic to China in an often futile search to procure coveted ranking points. This must have taken an incredible amount of self-belief. Imagine how Fucsovics felt after losing to #1027th ranked qualifier Chuwan Wang in the first round of a Chinese satellite event in 2011 or the indignity of suffering a loss to #1340th ranked Dane Marc Ferrigno in Israel. Slowly ever so slowly, Fucsovics clawed his way up the rankings. He reached the top 300 in 2013 and the top 200 in 2014. Then his ranking stalled out. For the next two years he seesawed between the #150 to #250 range. By the spring of 2016, Fucsovics looked like he would be forever stuck playing challenger events.
A Whole New Level – Fucsovics Rising
At 24 years old, he had reached an age when most men’s tennis pros begin to reach their peak, the problem was that Fucsovics had played enough matches through the years to provide a representative sample of just how far he could ascend in the rankings. It looked like he had topped out. That was until the improbable happened. Starting in May 2016, Fuscosvics began to produce good results on the Challenger tour with a startling amount of consistency. Over the last half of that year, he made one Challenger tournament final, two semifinals and four quarterfinals at such exotic locales as Prostelov, Recanati and Segovia. These results were a harbinger of better things to come. After losing three of his first five matches in 2017, Fucsovics went on another run. With two titles and a runner-up finish, he raised his ranking to #109. This was where he found himself last week in the Braunschweig Challenger in Germany. He knew that a good showing just might be enough to push him into the top 100. The pressure was on, especially since his first opponent was one of the better players in the draw, Guido Pella, an Argentine, who was the 8th seed. Fucsovics squeaked by 10 -8 in a first set tiebreaker, then lost the second set before breaking Pella multiple times in the third set to win the match.
In his next two matches, he romped over lower ranked opponents yielding only nine games. That put him in the semifinals against #500 ranked Nicola Kuhn. On paper it looked like an easy victory for the Hungarian, but matches are not won or lost based on rankings. Kuhn’s ranking was deceptive. At seventeen years old, he was only playing in his second Challenger event ever. He even had to qualify for the main draw. Fucsovics lost the first set, but pulled even by winning the second. It came down to a handful of points where the younger Kuhn was a bit more aggressive as he took the match in three sets and went on to win the tournament. As for Fucsovics, his semifinal finish was just enough to pull him eight spots higher in the world rankings. He entered the week ranked 99th, a dream come true!
A New Ceiling – The Window Of Opportunity
The tennis world barely batted an eye. Players come and go in the ATP top 100 every week, though Hungarians are much rarer. Fucsovics became the first Hungarian men’s player in the top 100 since Attila Savolt in March 2003. A 14-year drought has been broken, at least for now. It is likely that Fucsovics will fall back several places after this week. He is due to lose 33 ranking points from last year’s semifinal finish at Recanti. Nonetheless, he has an excellent opportunity in the coming months to stabilize his position. The question will be whether he can win at the ultimate level, the ATP World Tour. His record in the main draw of Tour level events is a desultory 3-10. On the other hand, Fucsovics has never played so consistently well before in his career. An even greater breakthrough may be yet to come. He can always dream and it would be wrong to doubt him. I know this from personal experience.