For Matija Pecotić ’13, the journey to victory in the round of 32 at the Delray Beach Open, a professional men’s tennis tournament in south Florida, was far from typical.
The native Croatian, who majored in politics at Princeton and was a member of Ivy Club, had major success during his time on the Tigers’ tennis team. Pecotić became the first-ever three-time Ivy League Tennis Player of the Year. At the time, he was the 11th person across any sport in which there is an Ivy League Player of the Year to win it three times. He also ended his Princeton career with 22 consecutive singles match victories.
Now, ten years after his Princeton graduation, in his first-ever Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) main draw, Pecotić defeated former top-ten singles player Jack Sock and jump-started the third attempt at a pro tennis career at the Delray Beach Open. After a major staph infection in 2016 forced him to be bedridden for eight months, and the COVID-19 pandemic stopped him in the midst of his comeback, Pecotić’s resilient pursuit of a professional tennis career can be attributed to his mental fortitude and strong support system behind him.
“I'm an eternal optimist. At any moment of despair or suffering, I always think that it’s gonna turn out well,” Pecotić said.
Pecotić, for all the impact he made on Princeton tennis as a captain, also attributes his success to those who surrounded him at Princeton.
“You had just so many great people all around that would just feed your fire. And [they would] just make you say, ‘I could be doing more with myself.’ You move away from someone with potential to someone that’s doing great things. That’s what a place like Princeton does,” Pecotić told The Daily Princetonian.
Pecotić had an opportunity to train with current world tennis No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the summer of 2013. While Djokovic was in the area for the U.S. Open, he was in search of a hitting partner for the practice courts, and his consultant, Gordon Uehling, went down I-95 to find Pecotić in Princeton.
“I heard about Novak being in New Jersey at the U.S. Open and I got connected with Gordon,” Pecotić said. “He saw me hit and he said ‘Oh, you'll be perfect for Novak’ and we had a couple of training sessions. We’ve been friends ever since.”
“He’s certainly the first one leading the charge in telling me to get back on the tour,” Pecotić continued. “That’s what he wrote in his Instagram post. The translation is ‘Matija, you’re not for the office yet.’ He said, ‘I'll see you on the court soon.’”
While his victory over Sock in itself is an impressive feat as a 33-year-old who has never won a main draw match, it’s particularly remarkable when you consider the double life he has led. Alongside tennis, Pecotić attended Harvard Business School from 2017–2019, and now works a full-time job as a Director for Wexford Real Estate Investors LLC., a finance company based out of Palm Beach, Florida.
Pecotić credits much of his current success to conversations he had at Pine Brook Country Club in Boston around 2019. On the weekends, Pecotić routinely played tennis at the club with a group of four men, consisting of David Fialkow and Adam Valkin of venture capital firm General Catalyst Partners, as well as Yellowstone Club owner Sam Byrne and Pine Brook Country Club member Leif Thompson. After playing with and getting to know Pecotić, the men approached Pecotić with a proposition.
“They were like, ‘Call your hedge fund and your friends and tell them you’re not taking the job [in finance], because we’re getting you back on the pro tour, and we’re gonna back you.’ If it wasn’t for those guys. I wouldn’t have even entertained a second shot on the tennis tour.”
Pecotić, backed by supporters on and off the tour, is still fueled by his passion for tennis and the possibility of what is to come, considering the unprecedented path that has led the 33-year-old to his athletic success.
“I think you should maximize your athletic potential and your athletic abilities, because if you don’t go on to play sports after college, the worst feeling that you’re going to have is thinking that you could have accomplished more, and that you didn’t leave it all out there,” Pecotić remarked.
As an aforementioned ‘eternal optimist’, the victory at the Delray Beach tournament brings into question just how much further Pecotić is willing to go.
“I’m still trying to figure that part out. But I’m not used up. I don’t have a lot of mileage. And I guess I’m forced to take the road less taken once again and see where that takes me.”
Cole Keller is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Zoë Scheske is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Please direct any corrections requests to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.