The Greatest Story Never Told – Breaking Point: Marton Fucsovics & Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open

On a beautiful Sunday afternoon the piercing blue of an autumn sky called me to come outside and play. I would have none of it. Instead of enjoying what would likely be one of the last days of good weather in the shadow of the northern Rocky Mountains, I sat inside, watching the inevitable play out on at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadows, New York. It was there that Novak Djokovic put the finishing touches on a spectacular summer of tennis. As he closed in on his 14th Grand Slam title, the Belgrade born Serb was cementing his place among the greatest tennis players of all time. Long ago, he had taken the mantle of greatest Eastern European tennis player of all time. Lest there are any left questioning that honorific, consider that Djokovic has won as many Grand Slam titles as Ivan Lendl, Ilie Nastase, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin combined. His run of success is without precedent from any player in the region.

Watching Djokovic methodically dismantle Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, it was difficult to imagine how anyone could beat him with his current level of play. He would win the championship match against del Potro in straight sets, just as he had done in his four previous matches. During the tournament he lost only two sets while looking unbeatable. This was the exact opposite of how he had looked twelve days earlier. That was when Djokovic had been on the cusp of defeat in his match against the Hungarian Marton Fucsovics in the first round. The seeds of Djokovic’s future success at the tournament were sown in the fetid air on a memorable afternoon when he looked extremely vulnerable. An afternoon in which both men were on the verge of heat exhaustion, if not complete collapse.

Too hot to handle - Marton Fucsovics congratulates Novak Djokovic on his victory at the US Open

Too hot to handle – Marton Fucsovics congratulates Novak Djokovic on his victory at the US Open

A Match Played In Hell –  Stadium Court To Stadium Cauldron
On the Tuesday afternoon that Marton Fucsovics took the court against Novak Djokovic at the U.S. Open I was ensconced on the sofa at my mother-in-law’s residence in Debrecen preparing to watch the match in its entirety. It was already evening in Eastern Hungary and the sun had just set over the Great Hungarian Plain as the match began. Earlier that day I had passed through Nyiregyhaza, Fucsovics hometown. I wondered how many people in that small, tidy city would be staying up to watch the match.  Tennis was not anywhere close to being one of the favorite sports in Hungary, but perhaps Fucsovics was slowly changing that. An upset win over Djokovic could go a long way in making that happen. From the way Fucsovics started the match against Djokovic, that did not seem likely. Within a few minutes he was down 0-3. He had lost his serve and looked totally overwhelmed by the occasion. That was not surprising.

Djokovic was a two time U.S. Open titlist who had played on show courts for years. Fucsovics was a newcomer to the cavernous stadium court. He looked lost until the latter part of the first set when he finally threatened to break Djokovic’s serve. His improved play was not enough as Djokovic took the first set. At this point I figured it was now or never for Fucsovics because if he fell behind in the second set, the match would be all but over. What happened next was surprising. Fucsovics began to play with the kind of confidence which had lifted him from career journeyman to a #41 world ranking in just over a year. He controlled the rallies from the outset. Djokovic, who had started the match looking invincible, now looked vulnerable. He began to spray balls in every direction except between the lines. His energy level dropped. Fucsovics took the second set rather easily.

Djokovic’s fortunes had taken a turn for the worst. He was soon calling for a bucket into which he might possibly vomit. A physician arrived to check his health. In a matter of half an hour, he had gone from looking like a sure winner, to a man who might collapse at any moment. The drop in the Serb’s level of play had as much to do with the weather as it did Fucsovics who looked to be suffering as well. The conditions on court were close to unbearable. It was 95 degrees Fahrenheit with suffocating humidity. Djokovic showed signs of labored breathing. Fucsovics looked better, but was also slathered in sweat. The court had become a cauldron.

A Moment Of Fear & Desire – The Verge Of Victory
Watching this, it suddenly struck me that Fucsovics might just pull off the upset. At this point, my imagination went into overdrive. Here I was, a long suffering fan of Hungarian tennis who might be witnessing the greatest upset by a Hungarian in tennis history. And to see it while in Hungary was more than I could ever have hoped for. I felt a moment of destiny about to arrive in Debrecen by way of the National Tennis Center in New York. A surge of adrenaline coursed through my veins. My pulse began to race at the playing of each point. I wanted this as much for myself as Marton Fucsovics. I was at the point where the fan becomes inseparable from the object of adulation, self-actualization through the actions of another. When a man sees a dream which he could never have imagined materialize before his very eyes, he is forced to confront his greatest fear, that of success and what might come next. In this case, a win for the ages.

The moment where fear and desire coalesce came in the third set. While leading 3-1 and 30-40 with Djokovic serving, Fucsovics was on the cusp of breaking the Serb for a second time in the set. This would have given him an almost insurmountable advantage. The hard hitting Hungarian played himself into a position where he had an easy forehand – in tennis parlance “a sitter” – that he should have hit for a winner. Instead, he smacked it into the middle of the net. That missed shot turned out to be the decisive turning point. Djokovic dominated from there on out. He went on to win the final ten games of the match. I hardly had time to process what happened by the time these two Eastern European tennis warriors were at the net shaking hands. A Fucsovics victory turned out to be the greatest story never told.

A Single Point On A Sultry Day  – The Winner Takes It All
Novak Djokovic dominated the U.S. Open after his close call against Marton Fucsovics. It was only after the tournament ended and I looked back at the scores of Djokovic’s matches that I realized he lost only two sets on his way to the title. Of course, one of those was to Fucsovics, who came closer than anyone else to defeating the Serb. In men’s professional tennis, no points or awards are given for coming close. There is only victory or defeat. And sometimes the difference between the two comes down to a single point on a sultry day. A day when one man reaches his breaking point and the other goes beyond it.

The Miracle of Marton Fucsovics – Hungary’s Top Tennis Player Realizes His Potential

In February it will be exactly one year since I wrote my first post mentioning Marton Fucsovics. At the time, he was Hungary’s top tennis player, but that was about the extent of his fame. Fucsovics was ranked #163 back then. He looked to be headed for journeyman status. In tennis parlance that means a career toiling away at second tier challenger events in provincial European cities. By the beginning of 2017, Fucsovics had been playing on the pro tour for five and a half years. The great promise Fucsovics had shown when he won the 2010 Wimbledon Boys’ Singles Championship looked to be a thing of the past. Then something remarkable happened, Fucsovics began to play the best tennis of his life. His rise in the rankings was steady. He achieved a career high of #109 prior to Wimbledon, after he won a grass court challenger event in Ilkley, England. This gained him a main draw spot at the All England Club.

In the autumn of 2017 the man who goes by the nickname of Marci, broke inside the top 100 for the first time ever. This occurred after he qualified for the main draw at the ATP Tour event in Basel, Switzerland where he made it to the quarterfinals before losing a close three setter to fourth ranked Marin Cilic. Fucsovics finished the season ranked at a career high of #85. As the self-anointed personal record keeper of Marton Fucsovics, I could not have been more pleased. His 2017 season was more than his small, but growing group of fans could have hoped for. Marci from Nyiregyhaza was on the verge of becoming a household name in his tennis starved homeland of Hungary if he could manage to stay in the top 100. As the 2018 season began, I began to worry if Fucsovics would be able to achieve the same high level of results he had during 2017. That worry has now vanished due to the miracle of Marton Fucsovics.

On the verge of a major breakthrough - Fucsovics ranking prior to the Australian Open

On the verge of a major breakthrough – Fucsovics’ ranking prior to the Australian Open

The Notable Nyiregyhazan – Scorching The Competition
Only two notable residents are listed on the English language Wikipedia page for Nyiregyhaza, a small city in eastern Hungary. One of whom is the famous children’s book author, Gabor Nogradi. The other is a female Hungarian pop singer by the name of Ibolya Olah. It should not be long before Marton Fucsovics’ name is listed alongside them. That is because Fucsovics is playing tennis at a level that has not been seen from a Hungarian since Balazs Taroczy in the 1980’s. To put it bluntly, Fucsovics has started off the season on fire and is now positively scorching. The analogy is appropriate since Fucssovics has garnered the best results of his career in Australia, where he is just as hot as the weather. He arrived Down Under in the Australian capital to play the Canberra Challenger as a warm up for the Australian Open. He proceeded to sail through the draw to the final with only the loss of a single set. In the final, he faced the Italian veteran Andreas Seppi. Fucsovics won the first set, but dropped the next two. Nevertheless, getting to the final led to his highest ranking ever at #80.

The result gave Fucsovics momentum as he headed to Melbourne for the Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam event. Grand Slam tournaments are where rising players solidify their status and the best players etch their name in history. Coming into the Australian Open, Fucsovics had never won a match in the main draw of a Grand Slam event, though he had come closest at the U.S. Open this past August where he lost in a fifth set tiebreaker to the Frenchman Nicholas Mahut. Coming off his runner-up finish in Canberra, Fucsovics had good reason to believe he could finally break through for his first Grand Slam tournament victory. This hope was tempered by the thought of what happened to Fucsovics last year at the Australian Open. He had lost in the first round of qualifying to a young Australian, Bradley Mousley, who was ranked #529 at the time. It would turn out to be the worst loss Fucsovics suffered in 2017. Of course, there was another way of looking at this result. Fucsovics could not do any worse at the Australian in 2018 than he had in 2017. He really had nothing to lose and everything to gain this time, including valuable ranking points.

Hungarian Hero - Marci signs an autograph for a young fan at the Australian Open

Hungarian Hero – Marci signs an autograph for a young fan at the Australian Open

Everything To Gain – The Confidence Man
His first round opponent was a fellow Eastern European, the diminutive Moldovan journeyman Radu Albot. The two had played four times previously, with Fucsovics winning three of those meetings. The Hungarian’s greatest advantage over Albot is physical. He is five inches taller than the Moldovan. Fucsovics power game would end up overwhelming Albot in four sets, as he won three-quarters of the points on his first serve. He also hit 13 more winners, while feasting on Albot’s weak serve, which he broke nine times. It is difficult to imagine just how big this first round victory was for Fucsovics. He gained a boost to his confidence that would bode well for his next match. He would be a decided underdog against the top ranked American player in the world, #13 seed Sam Querry.

Prior to his second round encounter with Querry, Fucsovics had never beaten anyone ranked higher than 36th in the world. Marci proved there is a first time for everything in 2018, as he defeated Querry in four sets. This time he won 82% of his first serve points. The key moment came in the second set when he was able to win a tiebreaker 8-6. Fucsovics also teed off when returning Querry’s second serve. Just like in the Albot match, Fucsovics won over half of his opponent’s second serve points. With this win, Fucsovics entered a new stage of his career. For the first time ever, Fucsovics had beaten a player in the world’s top 20. His reward was a third round match with a man he had already handily defeated earlier this year, the Argentine Nicholas Kicker. Fucsovics once again thoroughly dominated Kicker, only allowing him seven games. He did this with the same winning formula from his previous victories, winning 63% of Kicker’s second serve points and out slugging him from the baseline by hitting twenty more winners. Fucsovics’ confidence is now at an all-time high and it has showed. He has been steamrolling the opposition.

The ultimate challenge - Fucsovics faces Federer in the 4th Round of the Australian Open

The ultimate challenge – Fucsovics faces Federer in the 4th Round of the Australian Open

Realizing Potential –  Scaling New Heights
It is hard to imagine a more thrilling tournament up to this point for Fucsovics. He has now guaranteed himself a quarter of a million dollars in prize money, a ranking in the world’s top 60 and most importantly a fourth round matchup with the player many consider the greatest ever, Roger Federer. It is a daunting, but well-deserved match for Fucsovics. He has spent the past twelve months working his way up to this point. Fucsovics has put himself in a great position with nothing to lose. Compared to where he was at this time last year, mired in the obscure world of tennis’ lower ranks, he has come farther than anyone could have expected. What led to his resurgence? There were big victories in Davis Cup, a title and multiple finals in Challenger level tournaments. These achievements did not necessarily point to his breakthrough at the Australian Open. Perhaps it has been something outside the world of tennis that has helped him scale new heights. Just two months ago, Fucsovics was engaged to get married. Success both on and the court have coalesced, leading to the miracle of Marton Fucsovics, a Magyar sportsman finally realizing his potential.