French Open: The curious case of Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Alejandro Davidovich Fokina has four tattoos: two of them speak of his approach to life ("step by step" and "tomorrow is so far, do it now"); the third an image of a tsunami on his forearm, because “that’s how I feel on court”; the fourth, between his left neck and shoulder, has the name of his dog, Racket, carved out between the shape of a heartbeat.
It might not quite be tsunami-like, but the 22-year-old Spaniard has begun making waves in his professional tennis career by making his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Roland Garros. As for dogs, in April while he was gearing up to play the ATP 250 tournament in Marbella, Foki—as his nickname goes—took time out to launch Adoptas.org, an online pet adoption platform created by him to help bridge the gap between people looking to adopt a pet and animal shelters across Spain.
When Fokina announced his project on Instagram, he put the number of abandoned animals in Spain every year at almost 3,00,000. The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns last year only aggravated his concern, and so Fokina spent a good part of the curtailed 2020 tennis season developing an online platform for a cause very close to his heart.
Growing up in Malaga to a Swedish-Russian father, who was a boxer, and a Russian mother, Fokina was not allowed to keep a pet at home. But that did not stop the child from forming a special bond with animals. “Whenever I see a stray animal, I go to the store and get something to feed it. And if it’s in bad shape, I call a shelter,” Fokina said during the press conference to launch his project.
Fokina hopes for his online platform to have a growing presence in Spain, and for his on-court performance and increasing popularity to help his cause find more funds as well as visibility.
“When I come to the court, I play for them (animals),” Fokina told tennis.com. “I want to win because I want to help them. I don’t know how, but that feeling push(es) me every game.”
After turning pro in 2019, the 2017 junior Wimbledon champion has produced his most consistent run on the Tour in the last couple of months. Fokina entered the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters (where he beat world No. 9 Matteo Berrettini), went a step ahead at the ATP 250 event in Estoril after breaking into the top-50 of the world rankings for the first time and lost to Novak Djokovic in the Round of 16 in Rome. In Paris, the world No. 46 has bettered his previous best Grand Slam show—a fourth-round entry in the US Open last year—and will take on German world No. 6 Alexander Zverev for a place in the last four on Tuesday.
The Spaniard has been part of one of the most dramatic matches of this Roland Garros so far, a 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(6), 0-6, 7-5 third-round victory against Norway's Casper Ruud. Facing a break point at 5-6 in the decider, Fokina dished out an underarm serve to win the point and after missing four match points, did the job on the fifth to complete an exhausting victory on the eve of his 22nd birthday.
It was for such encounters that Fokina and his coach, Jorge Aguirre, added a marathon world champion to their coaching set-up. Martin Fiz, who won the 1995 World Championships in Sweden and finished fourth at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics marathon, teamed up with Fokina in December last year. The former Spanish marathoner was tasked not only with working on Fokina’s fitness and stamina but instilling in him the mental toughness of a long-distance runner. In his four singles matches so far in Paris, the Spaniard has spent more than 13 hours on court; his previous match a four-set, three-hour battle with Argentine Federico Delbonis.
Fokina doesn’t shy away from a grueling dogfight, for he pictures himself having “the fitness of a bull”.
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