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Hard COVID, car crash… : Vesely has come a long way before the Djokovic upset

A former top 40 player, Jiri Vesely says he was not prepared for his early success and hopes his win over Djokovic is the start of a good run

Czech Republic's Jiri Vesely celebrates winning his quarter final match against Serbia's Novak Djokovic at the Dubai Tennis Championships Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely celebrates winning his quarter final match against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic at the Dubai Tennis Championships Image Credit: AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Czech player Jiri Vesely hopes that his win over world No 1 Novak Djokovic is a launch pad for his return to greater heights in the men’s game. The 28-year-old played powerful tennis and displayed steely nerves to knock out five-time champion Djokovic 6-4, 7-6 in the quarter-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Thursday evening.

The win was Vesely’s second over Djokovic in as many matches, the first one coming in 2016 at Monte-Carlo. Speaking to the press after his win, Vesely admitted tthat his earlier win over Djokovic and the early success he enjoyed in his career may have come too soon.

Vesely had already done it

Vesely was only 22 at the time when he first beat Djokovic, and was a remarkable junior, winning the Australian Open boys singles and doubles title and becoming the world’s top-ranked junior. He had also been the youngest player in the top 100 at the age of 20 but after reaching the top 40 in 2015, he failed to breakthrough to the next level.

“I think maybe also that win came maybe too early. Again, it was a big win. He was at that time I think unbeaten in that year. He won Australia, Indian Wells, Miami. I was 22 years old. I thought maybe I am on the right way, it’s going to go along. It was great to be really successful in that early age, but I think I just wasn’t prepared for that. Maybe now this win can help me actually much more than it did in Monte-Carlo.”

Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely during his quarter final match against Serbia’s Novak Djokovic at the Dubai Tennis Championships Image Credit: AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Vesely admitted that he took losses quite badly initially but has now learnt to accept that wins & losses are part of the journey.

“After some time you get used to all the things. Winning and losing is just part of the sport. I think it’s much more important to be able to not care so much about losses, just go step by step further and further. Every single week you have a new chance. But all this comes with the age I think, with experience, maybe also with people around you, the closest ones that they tell you also at a young age. It’s hard to say. I think everybody has his own way.”

COVID-19 and automobile crash mar the 2021 season of Vesely

Having dropped out of the top 100 recently, Vesely, now ranked 123rd in the world, recounted the difficult 12 months he has had to ensure, which included a longer recovery time from the after-effects of COVID-19 and an automobile accident in the Czech Republic, all of which he says made him lose some of his faith.

“Last year in middle of February, end of February, after I came back from Australia, just before the tournament actually in Doha and here in Dubai, I was supposed to play here as well, I got COVID which wasn’t a very bad time during COVID. I was quite okay. Once I started to practice, it was really, really hard to breathe, for me to work, to be able to practice for one hour, two hours. I had these struggles for maybe two months, three months. Of course, it makes you really frustrated, depressed sometimes because you don’t really know what to do.”

“The first step into the right direction”, Vesely hopes

“I was making all health checks, talked to many, many doctors. Nobody really knew how long this could take. Once you don’t practice enough, once you don’t play enough, once you don’t win matches, it’s all coming together. Then after three months, I finally found more energy to work harder again. Suddenly we had a car crash. It was again one month out of tennis. Luckily it wasn’t anything bad. It was just reaction after the car crash against the tree. I had some problems with the neck. But it wasn’t anything serious which I have to be… We all are very lucky and very happy for that. Of course, it just takes time to really get back to just live without pain. “

His win over Djokovic puts him Vesely into the semi-finals in Dubai and should see him back in the top 100 next week. With age and experience on his side, this time Vesely hopes his win over the Serb, who will lose his top spot in the world rankings next week, is a step in the right direction.

“I really hope this tournament is really the first step into the right direction. I will really do my best with all the people around me to really stay healthy and just try to get better.

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