You have to be a fairly committed tennis follower to already know the story of Matija Pecotić, but that may change soon. In February, Pecotić, a crafty Croatian left-hander born in Belgrade and raised in Malta, notched his first-ever victory in an ATP Tour main draw when he defeated former top-10 player Jack Sock at a tournament in Delray Beach, Fla.
It was a nice breakthrough win. What made it stand out was that Pecotić is 33 years old—an advanced age at which men’s players not named Roger, Rafa or Novak are usually starting to decline, or at least plateau.
What made it really stand out is that Pecotić isn’t even a full-time professional. He’s a part-time tennis player with a totally separate career, working at Wexford Real Estate Investors in Palm Beach, Fla.
That’s right: Tennis’s new overnight sensation is a director-capital markets. And a Harvard M.B.A. He’s basically a walking, talking Wall Street Journal sports story—the first athlete I’ve ever interviewed to note they were really starting to blow up on LinkedIn.
“You don’t belong in the office just yet,” World No. 1 Novak Djokovic called out to his pal Pecotić over social media after his Delray win.
We’ll get to Pecotić’s back story in a minute, because it’s considerable. But first he had some news to share. The win over Sock caused a buzz in tennis circles, and provoked a question: What is Pecotić going to do now?
“I just made this decision less than 48 hours ago—I will compete in about 25 [events] this year,” Pecotić told me Wednesday. “I’m going to go play, but I’m continuing to stay with the firm. I’m not quitting.”
Pecotić said his bosses, Wexford Capital co-founders Joseph Jacobs and
are on board with the plan.
“I think this actually sort of complements what he’s doing,” Jacobs said. “He’s not going to be in the office as much, but how could I possibly deny this person the opportunity to see if [he] can make it go?”
Thus begins the next chapter in an unusual tennis journey. Pecotić played college tennis at Princeton, where the school took a flier on him after watching tape of a former handball player in his late teens; he wound up winning Ivy League player of the year three times.
“A very good player with a clear chance of becoming professional,” said Princeton’s coach, Billy Pate, adding that Pecotić continues to hit with and mentor fellow Tiger players. “He’s always willing to give advice.”
Pecotić turned pro in 2014, getting early backing from investor Bill Ackman, who watched him practice with Djokovic and offered to sign on as a sponsor. Pecotić’s start in lower-level tournaments was promising—he reached No. 206 in 2015—but an infection after a sports hernia injury caused him to miss significant time. That’s when Pecotić put tennis to the side to apply to Harvard Business School, enrolling in 2017.
“I wasn’t sure how I would bounce back after my surgery and my illness, and I’d always wanted to be in the business world, since my first month in the U.S.,” Pecotić explained. “Being mentored by Bill Ackman continued to influence that hunger. I learned everything I could from him. He has that famous reading list that he gives to his incoming analysts. I read all those books. I knew [business] was where I wanted to be. I recognized the finitude of a tennis life.”
Tennis remains a sport where too few pros are able to make a living; outside of the top 100, it can be a struggle to break even. Still, it was during B-school that Pecotić reignited his tennis passion, practicing with the Harvard team. Upon graduating in 2019, and with a hedge-fund job offer looming, he gave pro tennis another go, winning a small clay court tournament in Lebanon and a hard-court event in Tunisia, among others. He was rolling.
Then Covid hit, derailing him again.
In Wexford, Pecotić found an employer willing to accommodate his tennis aspirations. Being based in sunny Florida didn’t hurt, nor did having a tennis-playing boss in Jacobs, either.
Pecotić was a last-minute addition to the Delray Beach tournament. He was an alternate who found out a player had dropped out when he went in to pick up some rackets he’d had strung. His road through the pretournament qualifiers included a victory over Tennys Sandgren, a two-time Australian Open quarterfinalist.
Because of his significant time off, Pecotić has lower mileage than the average 33-year-old player, and he believes his business life has given him helpful focus. He’s a strong adherent of the tennis analytics shaped by Gordon Uehling, the technology-savvy coach who hosted the practice session where Pecotić met both Djokovic and Ackman for the first time. Pecotić likens the data about tactics and tendencies to the info used by high-frequency day traders.
“In our world, we are all about information, put the emotions aside—analytics, analytics, analytics,” he said. “That’s how you move forward.”
Ackman, who watched Pecotić’s victory over Sock and a subsequent loss in the round of 16 to Marcos Giron, thinks that Pecotić’s life experience is also an edge.
“The huge advantage the guy has over other people on the tour—he’s unbelievably mature, unbelievably disciplined on top of being a great athlete,” Ackman said.
Now Pecotić is set to double down on his commitment. The current plan is an intensive six-week program to hone his fitness for the season. He’s got his eye on a clay-court ATP 250 tournament in Houston in April.
I asked him if qualifying for the U.S. Open would be a dream outcome.
“Dream outcome?” he asked, smiling. “Winning the U.S. Open.”
“Come on, man,” Matija Pecotić said. “Why not dream big?”
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Write to Jason Gay at Jason.Gay@wsj.com
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