When the best stories of the tennis season are collated at the end of 2023, Matija Pecotic’s journey at the Delray Beach Open will certainly be among them.
The 33-year-old has a full-time job as the Director of Capital Markets for a real estate investment company and is No. 784 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. So how did he end up in the main draw of an ATP Tour event for the first time?
Pecotic never broke into the Top 1,000 in the ITF Junior Rankings, but he became a star at Princeton University, where he competed from 2009-13. The lefty was a three-time Ivy League Player of the Year and climbed as high as No. 2 in the college tennis rankings.
In 2014, the Croatian fully pursued professional tennis and the following year he ascended to a career-high World No. 206. But that was when he hit a roadblock. Just before the 2016 Australian Open he had a small surgery on his stomach.
“[I] ended up getting a serious staph infection and I was basically bed-ridden for eight months,” Pecotic said. “That changed the trajectory of my tennis timeline and my tennis career.”
The time off gave him time to think about his future. Pecotic decided to sit for the GMAT exam and apply for business school without any expectations. He was accepted to Harvard Business School, causing a dilemma: continue playing professional tennis or hit the books. Pecotic, who has competed in qualifying at all four Grand Slams, chose the latter.
While at Harvard, Pecotic connected with Andrew Rueb, a member of the Harvard men’s tennis coaching staff, and became a volunteer assistant coach.
“He said, ‘We hear you’re back on campus, we’d love to have you out with the guys.’ I had not been playing tennis for a while and he said you’re welcome to come out any time,” Pecotic recalled. “Soon enough I was with the guys six days a week and I started playing tennis again and I rediscovered my love for the game.”
Rueb, who in 2018 became the head coach at Harvard, said that Pecotic was clearly passionate about tennis during his time in Massachusetts.
“We all felt like he had another few chapters left in his tennis career. He served as our volunteer coach for a year and made a big difference in our program by imparting some of his veteran experience to our younger guys. I’m so glad he took another swing and went back on tour,” Rueb said. “Matija has a high competitive IQ and that made him a great coach. On Tour, you need so many pieces nowadays to fit into place to break the Top 100 and it is a steep mountain to climb.
“Certainly Matija has a huge heart and loves the grind of working hard. His footwork is also world class. We thought he had a chance to make it in the pros but making a comeback is always hard – especially when you are in your late-20s. We wish him the best of luck at Delray Beach.”
After graduating from Harvard with his degree in hand, Pecotic allowed himself one year to give professional tennis another shot.
“I was playing the best tennis of my life,” Pecotic said.
Although the lefty made progress, the Covid-19 pandemic closed that door. Now Pecotic is the Director of Capital Markets for Wexford Real Estate Investors, a subsidiary of the $4 billion investment firm Wexford Capital. He works a typical 9-6 schedule and tries to squeeze in tennis in the morning before work.
“I absolutely love this game and I know it’s not forever and I’m 33. I try to maximise each day. I try to train every morning if I can, five, six times a week,” Pecotic said. “Sometimes I train with my boss, who is 70 years old. This week I trained with a guy who is probably in his late 50s. But you find creative ways to work around it.”
Pecotic also hits the gym each day and enjoys a run after work. That put him in good enough position to take advantage of the opportunity he received this weekend in Delray Beach. The Croatian signed in as an alternate for the qualifying draw Friday evening and dropped off his racquets for stringing. He did not get in.
“I woke up on Saturday morning and I said, ‘I better drive down to Delray to pick up my tennis racquets.’ When I showed up, the supervisor said, ‘There’s a chance that you might get in’. So 30 minutes before the first match he said, ‘I think one guy’s going to pull out, but it’s not sure,’” Pecotic said. “A couple minutes later he said, ‘I think you’re in the tournament.’ Actually when I was going out to play [Stefan] Kozlov they announced my name as the guy who was originally supposed to play, so they said Kozlov and Watanuki, but it was actually me. I ended up playing.
“I played a tough match and to beat Tennys [Sandgren in the second round of qualifying] is a real special treat, but totally unexpected. I’m just enjoying it and going as far as I can. And if not, I’ll go back to work!”
What was it like to qualify? “Just sort of a moment of disbelief,” he said.
Pecotic will try to extend his fairytale run on Tuesday when he plays former World No. 8 Jack Sock.
Did You Know?
Pecotic was on Croatia’s United Cup team this year. “I love the format, I hope it keeps going and I think there are going to be a lot of good matches in the coming years,” he said. “It’s a great way to start the year, too.”