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Meet The 33-Year-Old CRE Exec Who Shocked The Tennis World Last Week With A Major Tournament Upset

Matija Pecotić wasn't expecting to have to ask his bosses at Wexford Real Estate Investors for an additional day off last week. But that's what happens when you're a part-time pro tennis player, full-time director of capital markets after the biggest win of your life. And nothing about Pecotić's life has been expected. 

Matija Pecotić, a Palm Beach commercial real estate executive, celebrates his win over former world No. 8 Jack Sock at the 2023 Delray Beach Open.

Born to two doctors in Yugoslavia in 1989, he and his family fled to Malta as civil war befell their country. A self-taught tennis prodigy, he got a scholarship to Princeton and dominated the college ranks, then went pro and started to climb his way toward the world's top tournaments.

Then, just as suddenly, his career was seemingly over after being hospitalized for seven months with a staph infection following sports hernia surgery in 2016. He went to Harvard Business School, and after the pandemic scuttled a tennis comeback attempt, he found himself building multifamily and hotel deals in West Palm Beach.

On the side, he has continued to train and find opportunities to compete. Last week, he entered the Delray Beach Open not far from his office as an alternate qualifier. He won two qualifying matches against American players Stefan Kozlov and Tennys Sandgren, then on Tuesday in his first match in the main draw of an ATP Tour event, he beat Jack Sock, a former top 10 player. 

The next morning, when he was back at the office, he said “there were no issues” taking more time off, since the entire Wexford Capital team was in attendance.

“I am fortunate enough to be in a spot where I have two bosses and mentors that love the game of tennis," he said. "They can clearly see how much it means to me to still be a part of the game for a little bit longer.”

Wexford President Joseph Jacobs, sitting next to Pecotić for a Zoom interview in their office, said "half of Palm Beach was at the stadium."

"He plays at the club, and he’s made so many friends in the year he’s been here," Jacobs added. "We’re all tennis enthusiasts in the office. The last thing we’d want to do was suffocate Matija in terms of his passion for tennis."

Pecotić left work early to play in the tournament, he said, with “two unread texts." Forty-eight hours later, after he lost his next match to American Marcos Giron, he had “about 2,002 unread texts,” he said.

"It’s been great, a positive reception, and the guys at the office keep me humble enough to keep my feet on the ground," he said. "It’s been a fun couple of days, and I think I have enough perspective to understand that it’s a moment in time, but life continues."

Wexford Real Estate Investors Director of Capital Markets Matija Pecotić with co-founder and President Joseph Jacobs.

Pecotić joined Wexford in 2021 after his second attempt at a tennis career came to a halt with the pandemic. He had met Jacobs in Palm Beach during a tennis tournament, and when Jacobs and his wife visited Malta, Pecotić asked him for advice on the job offers he was mulling.

"I’m telling him, 'Go take this job and that job,' and my wife and I said to ourselves, ‘He shouldn’t work for anyone else except for us,'" Jacobs said. "We said, 'Just come to Palm Beach and check it out.' He came to stay with us for what was supposed to be for two weeks. It ended up being 11 months. It was just a natural fit with everyone in the office."

Wexford Real Estate Investors is the investment arm of Wexford Capital, which has investments in debt, equity, residential and commercial real estate. It has closed on 75 real estate deals to date with a total investment of roughly $750M, Jacobs said, largely investing his and partner Chuck Davidson's personal fortunes.

Wexford is Pecotić's first job in CRE, but he has long had feet in both the tennis and business worlds.

After a collegiate career at Princeton in which he was a three-time Ivy League Player of the Year, he got his start in pro tennis when Novak Djokovic, winner of 22 major tournaments, needed a lefty practice partner before a match against Rafael Nadal, who is tied with Djokovic for most all-time major wins among men's players.

Pecotić impressed a spectator: billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman. Ackman said he would sponsor the young Croatian's career, but not without a plan.

"It was sort of like an episode of Shark Tank," Pecotić said. "I went to 888 Seventh Ave. I'll never forget it, I get called into this meeting with Bill, and I gave him my proposal." 

He said he would reach the top 100 within three years, and if he couldn't make it, he would go to Harvard Business School instead. 

Ackman agreed, and Pecotić was off and running. He qualified to play in the Challenger Tour, the level below the ATP. He won several tournaments and rose to 206th in the world in 2015.

Matija Pecotić playing against Jack Sock, former world No. 8, at the 2023 Delray Beach Open.

That was when a nagging pain in his abdomen leading up to the 2016 Australian Open led him to "look for a quick solution" and opt for sports hernia surgery. The subsequent infection derailed his career.

"That gave me time to think about what the next chapter would be, and in communication with my partner, Bill, he gave me an opportunity to spend some time in his family office, learn the business," Pecotić said. 

With Ackman’s guidance, Pecotić enrolled in Harvard Business School. Once on campus, he started playing with Harvard's varsity tennis team — and started beating them. He gave pro tennis another shot, entering a tournament in Cancún, Mexico, as a pre-qualifier and wound up winning the whole thing. Then the pandemic hit, and he found himself in Florida.

Since joining Wexford, Pecotić has worked on several deals, including the apartment complex The Boulevard in Mimo and the acquisition, along with Key International, of the Fort Marriott Pompano Beach Resort & Spa, a 219-key waterfront hotel at 1200 North Ocean Blvd.

“We are in the process of looking for good opportunities, whether that's development or whether that's buying existing assets,” Pecotić said. “My day-to-day is continuing to look for opportunities to expand our networks and our relationships, both on the equity and debt sides. And learning the business, I'm still in the process of learning a lot from the senior guys.”

Wexford Real Estate is only starting to take in outside investment, Jacobs said, an area where he thinks Pecotić will be an asset.

“Matija, I think, just given his background and his personality and his education, would be a strong person to be out marketing the firm, so to speak, to third parties,” Jacobs said.

On the court, Pecotić is looking to build on the momentum of his biggest victory yet — although he isn't yet sure how. He was ranked No. 784 in the world before the Delray Beach Open, and he is eyeing a possible wild-card entry to the Miami Open, one of the biggest tournaments on tour, which starts March 19.

At 33, many of the players his age on tour are winding down their careers. But he thinks he is just getting started. 

"Tennis longevity is not a function of your age; it’s a function of your mileage," he said. "I’m like a sports car that’s been sitting in the garage."

He trains when he can, hitting occasionally with Davidson, who was a high-level tennis player himself. Against Sock on Tuesday, he came back from a set down to win, hitting 10 aces and 30 winners. He fell in straight sets to Giron, the No. 55 player in the world, the next day.

"Hopefully, my match [Wednesday] is not the last you’ve seen of me," he said. "In the meantime, we’ll be putting together good real estate deals."