Davidovich Fokina's ink also includes Spanish script that translates to, "Tomorrow is so far. Do it now!" (Photo: Corinne Dubreuil/FFT)
"Davidovich Fokina's ink also includes Spanish script that translates to, "Tomorrow is so far. Do it now!" (Photo: Corinne Dubreuil/FFT)"

On the grounds of Roland Garros this week, a Spanish terrier-bulldog mix has been turning heads and warming hearts. They call him Foki. He’s anything but poky when darting around the court chasing balls. With a mane of blonde-brown hair bouncing in the air, his powerful agility can be both marvelous and miscalculated—eyes blue when he succeeds, gray when he crashes. And though he may not be a native breed, locals have embraced Foki like one of their own.

Foki, more widely known as Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, is a 22-year-old tennis player from Malaga, Spain. In 2019, the relative unknown with Russian and Swedish blood initially unleashed his inner animal at the French Open when winning three qualifying rounds at a Grand Slam event for the first time. It was then when Davidovich Fokina adopted the nickname that developed into an emblematic dog tag on his social media profiles.

“My name Foki that I have, it was two years ago French guys told me it," Davidovich Fokina tells TENNIS.com. "The feeling of the French people here is like I’m playing at home.”

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Home. They say it’s where the heart is, for we all yearn for the shelter, identity and warmth that comes with one. For Davidovich Fokina, home is where the heart is—for those without a voice. As a countermeasure to the COVID-19 pandemic triggering a pet abandonment spike in Spain, Davidovich Fokina introduced his own non-profit, Adoptas. Its mission fosters connection between animal seekers and shelters and helps streamline the adoption process for rescue efforts.

It’s a personal project that only fuels Foki’s fire to reach new heights on the ATP Tour. With more wins comes more exposure, and hopefully, more placements and fosters.

“When I come to the court, I play for them,” says Davidovich Fokina, whose tattoos include the name of dog Racket engraved on his left shoulder.

“I want to win because I want to help them. I don’t know how, but that feeling push[es] me every game.”

With his victory Friday, Davidovich Fokina won consecutive five-setters for the first time. (Photo: Corinne Dubreuil/FFT)

With his victory Friday, Davidovich Fokina won consecutive five-setters for the first time. (Photo: Corinne Dubreuil/FFT)

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After being developed last year, Adoptas launched in April. By then, Davidovich Fokina was up and running after a challenging start to 2021. In January, he tested positive for COVID-19, preventing him from traveling Down Under for the delayed Australian swing. In February, hard luck continued at the Quimper 2 Challenger. Leading Thomas Fabbiano by a set in his first match of the year, Davidovich Fokina abruptly rolled his ankle, forcing him to stop.

But with his pet platform off the ground around the beginning of the clay-court season, Davidovich Fokina aptly rediscovered a sense of home on the court. He picked up 10 main-draw wins, highlighted by a quarterfinal showing in Monte Carlo with his first Top 10 victory over Matteo Berrettini, and a third-round run in Madrid, to break into the Top 50 upon arriving for the Paris major.

“There were up and downs. That gave me motivation to push every single day,” Davidovich Fokina says. “To improve, to be in a match like today.”

The “today” was a showdown with No. 15 seed Casper Ruud in the third round of Roland Garros. Two days earlier, Davidovich Fokina avoided a two-set collapse when he held off qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp. Friday, however, was the playdate Davidovich Fokina had patiently waited for. Ruud, a gifted clay-courter many tipped as a dark horse thanks to his stellar spring, could have walked off the court a winner in straight sets. But Foki came for a dog fight.

“I want to win because I want to help them. I don’t know how, but that feeling push[es] me every game.”

In both the first and third sets, Davidovich Fokina saved a set point on his way to squeaking out two tiebreaks. In the fourth set, he won seven points in being served a bagel by Ruud. Was Foki tired? Absolutely. Was Foki ready to roll over? Absolutely not. Appreciating his vocal spirit, leaping backhands and that hunger to run down every ball, chants of “FO-KI! FO-KI!” echoed throughout Court 14 as he served from behind in the deciding set.

After winning a 12-point game to break the Norwegian, the match was on Davidovich Fokina’s racquet. Serving at 6-5, Davidovich Fokina dug in for one last challenge, a 22-point marathon. Four break points were saved, one courtesy of an underarm serve. Four match points were missed, one courtesy of a slip to the ground during a lob retrieval.

On his fifth chance, four hours and 35 minutes later, Davidovich Fokina was finally home free:

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“The last game, I was going through a lot of emotions,” he says. “I had four match points and I missed easy balls. I was shaking. I couldn’t do a forehand. It was a big match. The crowd was unbelievable.

“I’m so happy for my team. We are working every day, every week to improve myself to win matches like this.”

Davidovich Fokina may have been shaking then, and those nerves could return Sunday when he plays for his first major quarterfinal berth against left-hander Federico Delbonis. Thanks to his courage though, here’s to the animals that won’t have to shake in fear of never knowing home again. For Foki will fight for them to hear their names chanted, too.