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Alejandro Davidovich Fokina looks to roar back at Indian Wells after overcoming Dubai demons
“I was little bit scared,” the 23-year-old told us after a tricky finish in the third round with Karen Khachanov.
Published Mar 14, 2023
The Break: Everything you need to know about Indian Wells, and beyond
INDIAN WELLS, Calif.—Animal lover Alejandro Davidovich Fokina has hopes of one day embarking on a safari to witness a lion in its natural habitat. When asked whether he can relate to the mighty creature, the Spaniard responds with an immediate “No!” before breaking into laughter.
On Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open, Davidovich Fokina finished off No. 13 seed Karen Khachanov after two hours and 17 minutes. The No. 23 seed clinched the 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 victory with a pummeling inside-out forehand winner to boisterous applause. Yet there was no celebration from Foki’s end of the court, no roar ringing out from inside Stadium 3.
“I was little bit scared,” he tells TENNIS.com.
Eleven days earlier, Davidovich Fokina had a maiden Top 10 hard-court win in hand, only to see five match points evaporate in a 6-1 tiebreak collapse against Andrey Rublev. The Russian went on to complete a three-set comeback to take their Dubai clash. Those painful memories came flooding back for a brief period when Davidovich Fokina pinned Rublev’s good friend Khachanov up against the proverbial wall.
With the match on his racquet, the 23-year-old’s backhand clipped the tape on the opening two points—the first resulting in Khachanov having an open court for a drop-shot winner, and the second flying out of play. Down 15-40, a Davidovich Fokina double fault put his opponent back on serve.
Recovering by reaching double match point in the following game thanks to an inside-in forehand return winner, neither opportunity to close went Davidovich Fokina’s way.
“There was no way it was happening again,” he thought.
Khachanov began the deuce point in control, but Davidovich Fokina’s movement in and out the corners behind the baseline through efficient sliding and deep shot-making was rewarded. A point away from finishing once again, Foki, like the lion he admires so much, waited for his moment to attack. On the 12th shot of a riveting rally, he pounced with one final blow. As he made his way to the net, relief was etched across Davidovich Fokina's face.
“After that forehand, I was like, ‘Oh, thank God it just was in and that's all,’” he reflects. “I didn't feel like using more energy.”
Davidovich Fokina had expended plenty of his gas tank throughout the match in giving back the love he felt from the stands. At the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, every match court provides players the chance to feel like the main showcase of the day, whether called to compete on Stadium 1 or Stadium 7. Having admitted to on-court emcee Blair Henley that he had forgotten about clocks springing forward an hour overnight for Daylight Savings Time, a tired Davidovich Fokina was boosted by the atmosphere surrounding him.
“It’s strange because we are in the middle of the desert, and somehow there's like thousands of people here. I don't know how many stadiums they have in Indian Wells, but for example, Stadium 3 can be the normal center court at another tournament,” he says. “To have a full crowd there was pretty amazing. They were supporting Khachanov and supporting me. I think it was 50-50 and I just felt all the energy that they put in.”
In 2022, Davidovich Fokina reached his first ATP final in Monte Carlo after backing up a stunning second-round win over Novak Djokovic. But away from that tournament, he only went 3-7 in the rest of his Masters 1000 appearances. That included just one victory across the four 1000s staged throughout North America (it coming at Indian Wells).
“My goal this year is to not have those up and downs, to be more consistent on tour. I can lose matches but I want to lose those matches playing my all and giving my everything,” he declares.
Ranked one spot off his career-high, the world No. 28 is in a favorable position to set a new personal benchmark if he gets past Cristian Garin on Tuesday. After that, a potential rematch with Daniil Medvedev looms in the quarterfinals. Medvedev, whose 16-match win streak began with a three-set rally over Davidovich Fokina in the first round of Rotterdam on Valentine’s Day, practiced with the Málaga native on Saturday. Putting down quality work, the two were seen sharing plenty of laughs along the way.
“He's a very good person. He's so humble,” Davidovich Fokina says of the 2021 US Open champion. “He's a very relaxing guy. When it's time to go to the match, he focuses.”
Should Davidovich Fokina get a crack at ending Medvedev’s unbeaten run, then perhaps, you’re gonna hear him roar. For connecting with an inner lion will likely be required to have any chance of hunting down the hottest player on the ATP Tour.