WATCH: In contrast to the growing picture of ATP rage, Davidovich Fokina brings a lighter energy that is no less competitive through his run in Monte Carlo.

Alejandro Davidovich Fokina was two points from his first Masters 1000 semifinal when he fell to the ground—no, not from pain or frustration. Anyone familiar with the 22-year-old knows "Foki" falls down, a lot.

So frequent are the trips and tumbles that it warranted the debut of a Twitter account where the question remains: @DidFokiFall?

But what makes this week at the Monte Carlo Country Club different is how Davidovich Fokina has gotten back up, first to beat world No. 1 Novak Djokovic and Marrakech champ David Goffin, and again on Friday against BNP Paribas Open champion Taylor Fritz—where his quick recovery drew an error that yielded two match points.

“When you’re 5-3 in the third set and 15-30 against Nole, you’ll dive 20 times,” he laughingly told Prakash Amritraj on Tennis Channel. “I was practicing for that moment and I just was surprised that [Fritz] missed the smash because it was an easy ball.”

Foki then added as his voice cracks with excitement: “After that I was like, ‘Ok! This is mine.”

The clay-covered Spaniard kept his feet on the ground when he secured the 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory with a phenomenal forehand winner, not only ending Fritz’s bid to become the first American in nearly two decades to reach the semis in Monte Carlo, but redeeming his own experience from last year’s quarterfinal that ended in disappointment.

“I had to retire with no crowd, no nothing,” he recalled after the match, “you know, was like so sad.

“This year I had my first match in the center court already with full crowd. You know, it's different. For me it's different to play here from the rest of tournaments, because I was watching TV every year, Rafa when he beat [Albert] Ramos [-Vinolas in the 2017 final], and, you know, I was, like, ‘I want to be there one day playing with the top players.’”


Foki has turned an “I want…” into a “Wow, I can…,” having done no worse than the quarterfinals in either of his Monte Carlo appearances, and does so in a way that is in direct contrast to the discourse around ATP player behavior.

As the tour vows to enact tighter restrictions in response to an increasing number of egregious incidents, its most likely offenders have already bristled at the notion of harsher penalties.

“They want to make the cage even tighter for us, I don’t think it’s good for the sport,” argued the inimitable Alexander Bublik earlier this week. “Of course, there should be some rules we have to follow: we shouldn’t throw racquets towards fans or ball kids, but in reality, it happens. I think we need people who is going to bring attendance, people who bring people.”

The people who bring people, at least by Bublik’s definition, didn’t exactly prove reliable this week. Noted personality Nick Kyrgios didn’t make the trip—having completely eschewed the European clay swing—while Bublik himself made a mess of his Monte Carlo campaign, staging an abrupt exit against Pablo Carreño Busta that appeared fueled as much by his vocal disdain for the surface as the shoulder injury he was later confirmed to have had.

But tennis needs personalities, so goes the traditional logic, and fans want to see them. Yet, the backlash against umpire intimidation and reckless racquet throws is largely fan-driven: after a long day of work, they do not, in fact, want to see officials dodging equipment or enduring expletive-laden tirades.

Funny how Foki, for all his spills, never lets the racquet loose from his grip, or how an 0-for-7 break point conversion rate against Fritz sent him not into fits, but to the bathroom to regroup.

“I reset my mind to stay focused on my game, to serve good, and to try and return his serve,” he said. “In those last two games [of the second set], I pushed myself harder and I made it.”


Effusive as Kyrgios and others like Alexander Zverev and Jenson Brooksby have been in post-match apologies to those they aggrieved, fans are proving equally entertained by athletes who require no such apologies, those who have done the work to adequately deal with their demons.

“I was a kid that wanted to do everything by himself,” Foki said of his longterm sports psychologist in an interview with TennisMajors, “and three years ago, I understood I couldn’t do it alone. I needed help. When we have a lot of emotions, when I’m going to win a lot of matches or losing as well, tennis is like a rollercoaster. You have a lot of winning streaks or losing streaks, and you have to deal with it. You’re going to have a lot of winning streaks, and you’ll think you’re the best in the world. But you aren’t, and you have to be humble: on the court and off. When you’re in a losing streak, you feel like you can’t beat anyone and that this sport isn’t for you. You have to feel those emotions and you have to control them to be one of the best.

“My personality is a little special,” he continued. “Mentally, I’m a bit late. Many players passed this step, but I did not. I’m in the middle of it, and each time I feel closer to passing this step to meet the requirements I need to fulfill my potential. But it’s tough. It’s my personality that blocked me from opportunities because it’s always been a rollercoaster.”

Foki attributes some of that delay to the cultural dissonance of growing up with Russian immigrant parents, both of whom sacrificed much to keep his career going.

“The Russian mentality is very direct, solid, brutal,” he explains. “The Spanish one is the total opposite. I was born in Spain, but my parents raised me one way, so by high school, I was Spanish at school and at home I was Russian. So, I was lost, but working with the psychologist helped me strengthen what I like in myself and be more myself.”


I was a kid that wanted to do everything by himself, and three years ago, I understood I couldn’t do it alone. I needed help. When we have a lot of emotions, when I’m going to win a lot of matches or losing as well, tennis is like a rollercoaster. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina

Those past emotional struggles provide stirring context given the man Foki has grown up to be, one who dances like no one is watching and dives for shots like it’s the last he’ll ever hit, one who advocates for small animals and takes care of those in need. After his victory over Fritz, he gave special attention to a wheelchair-bound fan, treating him to a towel, autograph and selfie.

To borrow from modern parlance, Foki is himbo excellence, a balm against toxic masculinity. It seems only right he should next play Grigor Dimitrov, a similarly beloved sensitive king—a himbOG, if you will—for his first Masters 1000 final.

Illness and freak injuries, including a back spasm ahead of his 2021 Australian Open quarterfinal, have kept the Bulgarian from his best in the two years since he beat Roger Federer to reach his third Grand Slam semifinal at the US Open, making Monte Carlo a revelatory week with wins over Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz. Undaunted by his string of bad luck, Dimitrov credits his run to simple hard work.

“If I would have lost this match, it would have been disappointing, of course,” he said after surviving Hurkacz, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (2). “At the same time, I wouldn’t be too down on myself, just because I’ve been doing the right things.”

Dimitrov and Foki have endured their stumbles, both metaphorically and (very often) literally, but in never losing their sense of humor have become stronger characters and the personalities tennis truly needs.