Fanaticism Never Felt So Good– Marton Fuscovics: Euphoria & Misery In Unequal Measure

Two weeks, Rome To Geneva. It sounds like a tourist junket or a fabulous vacation. The distance covered in kilometers is relatively slight, the distance traveled by my favorite tennis player might as well have been from the Mariana Trench to the moon. In the space of a fortnight my outlook on Marton Fucsovics’ 2018 season went from bleak to euphoric. This is what it means to be more than a fan.  When your hopes and dreams ride on match results from half a world away, that is either pathetic or fantastic. Perhaps it is a little bit of both depending on one’s level of desperation. Fanaticism knows no bounds. It is infused with passion, an uncontrollable emotion. And it blows everything, either good or bad, out of proportion.

On the rise - Marton Fucsovics in Geneva

On the rise – Marton Fucsovics in Geneva (Credit Marton Fucsovics/Facebook)

A Failure To Qualify –  The Fall In Rome
My vicarious journey from Rome to Geneva with Marton Fucsovics started with despair and desperation. I had dark forebodings soon after the main draw of the Italian Open was released. I scrutinized it for many minutes, searching in vain for Fucsovics. He was nowhere to be found. This was difficult for me to comprehend. How could he pass up a chance to play one of the most important tournaments of the year? He needed every ranking point he could get to maintain his ranking at #60. Perplexed by his absence, I could not understand why he would skip the tournament. It turned out that I was looking in the wrong place for his name. I finally found him in the qualifying draw. This was the first time in 2018 he had played the qualifying round at any tour event.

Qualifying is difficult at the best of times for those players who have finally made the leap to main draw entry. In this case, just to make it into the main draw Fucsovics would have to win two matches. And even if he won these matches they would not provide him with any ranking points. His first match would be against an Italian I had never heard of, Filippo Baldi. Baldi’s ranking was so low at #370 that he had to be given a wild card just to play in the qualifying. He had never beaten any player in the top 150. Such an opponent would usually signal a victory for Fucsovics. The main threat Baldi presented was that he would be playing on home ground, at his nation’s most prestigious tennis tournament. This factor could not be overlooked. The Italian tennis fan base is known to be raucous, especially at the Italian Open. Just ask Bjorn Borg who became so flustered in the 1978 Italian Open Final against Italy’s favorite son, Adriano Panatta, that he threatened to walk off the court.

Fucsovics was likely to face a tough match against Baldi. The Italian did not disappoint. The match was as just about as close as it possibly could be. They split the first two sets in tiebreakers before Baldi prevailed 7-5 in the third. Fucsovics had nothing to be ashamed of. He fought hard in an environment where his opponent was an overwhelming crowd favorite. Despite his effort, the loss still stung. A fanatic such as myself spends an inordinate amount of time hoping for the best while imagining the worst. My fear was that Fucsovics’ ranking would plummet come June and July when he was due to defend an inordinate amount of ranking points from the previous year. How was he going to cover those points? Fucsovics began answering that question eight days later when he took the court in Geneva.

A Dream Come True - Marton Fucsovics becomes the first Hungarian since 1981 to win a title on the ATP Tour

A Dream Come True – Marton Fucsovics becomes the first Hungarian since 1981 to win a title on the ATP Tour (Credit: Marton Fucsovics/Facebook)

Sinking Heart & Soaring Spirit – Rising From The Ashes
My heart sank when I first saw the draw for Geneva. Fucsovics’ had drawn the second seed, a Spaniard by the name of Gullermo Garcia-Lopez ranked #36 in the world. This is what happens in a lower level tour event when a player is not ranked high enough to garner a seed. Players such as Fucsovics have as good a chance to draw a top player, as they do a qualifier. Judging by his form it would have been a stretch to predict victory. Predicting a rout in his favor would have been lunacy until the improbable happened. Fucsovics destroyed the Spaniard, only losing three games in the process. This was not so much winning as it was dominating. He then managed to win his next match with American Frances Tiafoe in straight sets. At this point I was satisfied. Fucsovics had made it to the quarterfinals, matching his best showing – a quarterfinal in Munich – of the clay court season.

His next opponent would be the toughest yet, a favored son of Switzerland, three-time Grand Slam tournament champion, Stanislaus Wawrinka. Fucsovics’ lone advantage was that Wawrinka had been nursing an injury earlier in the year and his level of play had dropped. Conversely, Wawrinka was also the two-time defending champion. He was heavily favored to win the match. Predictions are nothing more than opinions built on past performance. In this case, Wawrinka’s past play turned out to mean nothing. Fucsovics started slowly, losing the first two games to Wawrinka, Then, as if by magic his play soared. Astonishingly, he would only lose two more games over the rest of the match. He proceeded to win twelve of the fourteen games on his way to a surprise victory.

Marton Fucsovics - 2018 Geneva champion

Marton Fucsovics – 2018 Geneva champion (Credit: Marton Fucsovics/Facebook)

On The Verge Of Reality – Dreams Dawning

This result had my head swimming with thoughts of what might come next. Everything now seemed possible. If Fucsovics could dominate one of the world’s best players, then he was surely capable of winning the title. This idea had me imagining great things for Fucsovics. At one point, I envisioned him winning a Grand Slam title. The definition of a fanatic is one who imagines his hero winning a Wimbledon crown after a quarterfinal victory in Geneva. I am certain Fucsovics and his coach, Attila Savolt, would have none of this. For tennis pros, it is always crucial to stay in the moment and concentrate on the business at hand. A fanatic such as myself does not adhere to that rule. Almost immediately, I began to study the rankings to see how much Fuscovics would rise depending on if he won or lost in the semifinals or final.

This was a golden opportunity for Hungary’s best player to possibly win a championship. Paradoxically, the closer Fucsovics got to that goal the more relaxed I became. Everything he did in Geneva after the quarterfinals was a bonus. He was now in position to cushion his ranking with a good showing.  Saturday dawned with a renewed sense of hope. That hope nearly expired when Fucsovics went down a set to Steve Johnson, one of the few Americans who excels on clay courts. Fucsovics proceeded to win a close second set, then dominated in the third, winning 6-1. He was now through to the final, the first male player from Hungary to make it this far in over three decades. After years of toiling away on the tour he was one match from a career defining victory. I could hardly believe it. There is a feeling of unreality that sweeps over a fanatic when one of their wildest dreams is on the verge of being realized. Very few times in life or sports do dreams come true, the final in Geneva presented such an opportunity.

In The Zone – Achieving Total Confidence
In truth, I could hardly believe this was happening. The terrible low of Fucsovics’ qualifying loss in Rome seemed to have never happened. I was ignoring the fact that this loss might be the reason for Fucsovics play in Geneva. In the final, he dominated the match against German Peter Gojowczk. Fucsovics was in the zone, a heady place of zen-like calm where the player can do no wrong. Time evaporates, the fear of failure ceases to exist and total confidence is achieved. One of several examples of this in the final was his first serve. It was lethal. Fucsovics won 91% of the points on his first serve. His return game was nearly as good. He won exactly half his return points. This added up to a 6-2, 6-2 victory. Game, set and championship to Fucsovics.

This was his first tour level title, but for Hungarian tennis it was much than that. It broke a title drought for Hungarians on the men’s tour stretching all the way back to Balazs Taroczy, when he won in 1982 at Hilversum. Hungary would also have its first player ranked in the top 50 since Taroczy. Fucsovics would jump to #45 when the rankings were released a day after the final. His career is now on a different trajectory. Winning the Geneva title also help him avoid having to play qualifying for the rest of the year. The title has set me off on another round of wild imaginings, even though I know expectations must be tempered. Fucsovics’ career will always be a work in progress. That is the way professional tennis operates. One week the depths of despair, the next winning a long hoped for title. The past two weeks have been a wild ride, euphoria and misery in unequal measure. Euphoria has won out…for now. This is what means to be a fan of Marton Fucsovics. Fanaticism never felt so good.

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