Lehecka: “Deep inside, me and my team, we believe”

Jiri Lehecka is very surprised to be in the quarter-finals in Melbourne. But at the same time, he’s dreaming big.

Lehecka Australian Open 2023 (AI / Reuters / Panoramic) Lehecka Australian Open 2023 (AI / Reuters / Panoramic)

Jiri Lehecka is in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Jiri Lehecka is in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open after wins over Borna Coric, Cameron Norrie, and, on Sunday, Felix Auger-Aliassime. Jiri Lehecka is 21 years old and had just played in the NexGen Finals last year. Sure, he played in the semi-finals in Rotterdam in 2022. Sure, he destroyed Alexander Zverev (6-4, 6-2) to start the year at the United Cup.

Yet, can somebody please explain what’s going on? Well, the kid is having a wild run! Time will tell if we’re currently witnessing one of the next big things in tennis or if it’s a player who is just red hot now and will then get back to earth. Still, somewhere Carlos Alcaraz might have raised an eyebrow. This “Baby Gen” field is starting to get too crowded for the other ambitious ones’ comfort.

“Honestly it feels amazing”, said Lehecka. To be in the quarters, I wouldn’t have believed it if somebody had told me this when I was on my way over here. I’m super excited about everything that will come next. Of course, I’ll try to do my best to recover well and to show my best tennis again in my next match.”

With little experience to his name at this level, the Czech already shows a lot of calm under pressure. Against “FAA”, he didn’t start to question everything after losing the first set. He did what the best players always do: he searched for solutions. “The first set was not that bad from my side. After that, I was just trying to focus on my return because he was serving pretty well, and I was trying to find the solution to return better. I managed to do that. I felt holding and focusing on my serve will be the most important thing. In the first tiebreak, I was playing much better. In the second tiebreak, it was 50/50. I played one incredible shot, a forehand down the line which he totally didn’t expect to happen. That was a few moments where I played great tennis and also he helped me with a few mistakes.”

As the tennis world is mostly discovering that new gem of Czech tennis, it’s interesting to notice that Lehecka is already a Top 100 player. And he himself credits his current astonishing run to the fact that he has already achieved meaningful milestones in his career. “The moment I broke into the top 100 was, of course, one of the most beautiful things. But right after it brought a lot of new challenges and experiences. It was my first time playing in all these big tournaments. It was my first time playing against and practicing with all these big players, great names. Of course, with this, some bad results came.”

Lehecka is only 21 but he has already shown that he was a smart one: he knew when it was time to go back to the Challenger level to finish his tennis education. He didn’t start to shoot for the stars while not being equipped for it. Of course, with this, some bad results came. “I chose to stay on the Challenger tour a bit more because over there it has been an environment in which I knew much more, was feeling more comfortable.”

Lehecka’s triumph over Felix Auger-Aliassime on Sunday, and his whole tournament so far, remains a massive surprise even for the Czech. But somehow he received precious help for this crazy run: his NextGen Finals experience. “At the Next Gen, I finally found my game and I found how to play what I want to play, and how to beat great guys in a big stadium. I saw all the media attention over there. It was some kind of a gate to the big tennis. They showed us what it looks like when you were a pro player. I think that at the beginning of this year, me and my team, we did everything we could to learn from the past year and to find solutions for what will be the best to do in the preseason. When we were on our way to Australia, we felt that my tennis level is growing and that my game has the potential to be successful over here.”

Lehecka also credits the United Cup for his Melbourne success. It’s the speech of a player riding a confidence wave and at the same time having a solid basis for it. “That was the thing that helped me the most, and what was the best way to start the year. We had a lot of fun there. We had great team spirit. Also, the mental part has been a great help for me: How to relax a bit more, how to focus on good matches in a very nice venue, how to focus more on the things which are maybe not that usual when you are playing on the Tour. After my match against Zverev, I felt that I was playing the way I wanted to play. We just kept working and we just kept believing that this was the right path to follow.”

Young ambitious players landing on the Tour often go through their “I can beat anybody” and “I believe I can be the next World No.1” era. Often, a wall is waiting. Sometimes, it’s proved to be the truth. But when everything is new and shiny, and they start to win, they can turn into an absolute menace. Lehecka is right there: nothing to lose, living the dream, can’t lose-won’t lose attitude. In a very humble way. “Deep inside, me and my team, we believe I have the game and I am able to produce very good tennis, which can take me to higher places. Here we are. We are in the quarters. Hopefully, we will go one more step.” The Australian sky seems to be the limit for now!

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