Jiri Lehecka made his principal draw debut in any respect 4 Grand Slams in 2022, his breakthrough season. However the Czech was unable to make his mark on the majors, falling quick within the first spherical on every event.
What would the 21-year-old have mentioned if informed earlier than the beginning of the season he would attain the fourth spherical on the Australian Open?
“I wouldn’t consider you,” Lehecka informed ATPTour.com with a smile. “However deep in my thoughts, I all the time knew that outcomes like this are potential for me.”
The World No. 71 has performed mature past his years at Melbourne Park, defeating two ATP Masters 1000 champions — Borna Coric and Cameron Norrie — en path to the Spherical of 16. And the Czech reveals no indicators of slowing down.
“I felt like my sport was there, however that I simply wanted to deal with some small particulars that may get me by these powerful matches,” Lehecka mentioned. “That’s one thing that I believe we labored onerous on rather a lot and focussed on each day and each observe. Now for me, an important factor is simply to remain focussed on the suitable issues.”
If his efforts to this point on the 12 months’s first main are a very good indicator, Lehecka will likely be a constant risk on the world’s greatest tournaments for years to come back. Not dangerous for somebody who grew up enjoying tennis for enjoyable.
“Again within the days once I was enjoying tennis again residence, it was solely about enjoyment and I by no means had large ambitions to develop into a professional,” Lehecka mentioned. “For me it has all the time been like a interest and to do some sports activities that I favored.”
The Czech has athletic genes. His father, Jiri, was an expert swimmer and his mom, Romana, was an expert track-and-field athlete. Lehecka believes he inherited empathy from his mom and his work ethic from his father, who preaches that the easiest way to earn something is tough work.
When Lehecka was three, he watched as his grandmother taught his older sister, Veronika, the game. He wished to present it a shot. However tennis didn’t develop into extra severe for Lehecka till he moved to Prostejov aged 15 and commenced representing the Czech Republic in numerous occasions.
“I began to really feel extra like I might love to try this professionally and I actually favored how all these gamers seemed when they’re enjoying on the massive phases,” Lehecka mentioned. “That was most likely the second once I took a checked out myself and mentioned, ‘Yeah, I actually wish to be an expert tennis participant and I actually wish to dwell a life like that.’”
Transferring to Prostejov to attend a sports activities college was scary on the identical time. Lehecka went to his new residence with out his dad and mom.
“It wasn’t simple for certain however fortunately for me, I had nice pals over there that I nonetheless be in contact with,” Lehecka mentioned. “They helped me undergo these troublesome instances when it was my first time with out my household or anyone I knew to focus extra on the tennis and deal with what I ought to do there.”
It was in Prostejov the place coach Michal Navratil met Lehecka for the primary time.
“What I used to be excited [about] was he was a really good man, all the time mentioned hiya to everybody. He was a form man,” Lehecka mentioned. “Then in fact once I noticed him on the courtroom he was very highly effective. The energy from the start was in him.”
Lehecka reached No. 10 on the earth as a junior, however his greatest splash thus far got here final February in Rotterdam. As a qualifier, he superior to the semi-finals with wins over Denis Shapovalov and Lorenzo Musetti alongside the best way earlier than pushing Stefanos Tsitsipas to 3 units. He was not intimidated by the massive stage of the ATP 500.
That consolation underneath the highlight turned even clearer on the Subsequent Gen ATP Finals in November. The Czech superior to the championship match in Milan.
“Once I ended the journey within the ultimate and I simply took a while off and took a while to get again on the bottom and a while trying again on the Subsequent Gen, I believe that each match over there, each observe session, and all of the media stuff round, the whole lot helped me in a sure manner,” Lehecka mentioned. “These are the experiences that helped me to be extra ready for what came visiting right here.”
Navratil believes that “one thing modified” in Milan for his cost.
“He began to consider extra in himself,” Navratil mentioned. “He had a few probabilities additionally throughout the 12 months and he discovered from it and he grew up and he received so far and now he enjoys it and he believes he can beat anybody and I’m so blissful for it.”
Former WTA World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova has been following Lehecka’s progress by the event and was impressed together with his five-set win towards Cameron Norrie within the third spherical.
“He has a very good coach, who was round with Jiri Vesely. So I believe that’s additionally helped him to convey some expertise, however I believe the sport is sort of robust,” Pliskova mentioned. “I really watched yesterday various the match with Norrie. I believe he’s very aggressive, particularly on these quick courts I believe it will possibly repay and naturally he’s nonetheless like a newcomer for a number of the gamers, so that they don’t know him that a lot and I believe he can do nicely.”
Whereas Lehecka hopes to proceed additional within the event — he performs Felix Auger-Aliassime within the fourth spherical — and climb the game’s ladder within the years to come back, he desires the followers who start to look at him to find out about extra than simply his tennis.
“I simply need them to know that I’m an trustworthy particular person,” Lehecka mentioned. “I actually like people who find themselves working onerous and they don’t seem to be looking for any excuses.”
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