Jiri Lechka made his main draw debut in all four majors in 2022, his breakout season. But the Czech hasn’t been able to make his mark in the majors, failing in the first round on every occasion.
What would the 21-year-old say if he had been told before the start of the season that he would reach the fourth round at the Australian Open?
“I wouldn’t believe you,” Lehecka told ATPTour.com with a smile. “But deep in my mind, I always knew that such outcomes were possible for me.”
Playing the world No. 71 coming of age after his years at Melbourne Park, he beat the two ATP Masters 1000 champions – Borna Couric and Cameron Norrie – en route to the last 16. And the Czech player showed no signs of slowing down.
“I felt like my game was there, but I just needed to focus on some small details that could get me through these tough matches,” said Lechka. “This is something I think we worked a lot hard on and focused on every single day, every practice. Now for me, the most important thing is to focus on the right things.”
If his efforts so far in the first major of the year are any good indication, Lehecka will be a continual threat at the world’s biggest tournaments for years to come. Not bad for someone who grew up playing tennis for fun.
“In the days when I played tennis back home, it was just about having fun and I didn’t have high ambitions to become a professional player,” said Lischka. “For me it has always been a hobby and doing some sports that I loved.”
The Czech has athletic genes. His father, Jerry, was a professional swimmer and his mother, Romana, was a professional track and field athlete. Lehecka believes he inherited compassion from his mother and work ethic from his father, who preaches that the best way to earn anything is through hard work.
When Leczka was three years old, he watched his grandmother teach his older sister Veronica the sport. He wanted to give her a chance. But tennis didn’t become more serious for Lehecka until he moved to Prostejov at the age of 15 and began representing the Czech Republic at various events.
“I started to feel like I would love to do it professionally and I really liked how all these players look when they play on the big stages,” said Leczka. “Maybe that was the moment when I looked at myself and said, ‘Yeah, I really want to be a professional tennis player and I really want to live a life like that. “
Coming to Prostejov to attend a sports school was scary at the same time. Lehika went to his new home without his parents.
“It was definitely not easy but fortunately for me, I had great friends there and I still keep in touch with them,” said Lechica. “They helped me get through those difficult times when it was my first time without my family or anyone I knew to focus more on tennis and focus on what I had to do there.”
It was in Prostgov where coach Michel Navratil met Lehecka for the first time.
“What were you excited about [about] Was a very nice guy, he always said hello to everyone. Lehika said. “And then, of course, when I saw him on the field he was so strong. He was strong in him from the start.”
Lehecka reached No. 10 in the world as a junior, but his biggest success to date came this past February in Rotterdam. As a qualifier, he advanced to the semi-finals, defeating Denis Shapovalov and Lorenzo Musetti along the way before pushing Stefanos Tsitsipas to three sets. He was not intimidated by the big stage of the ATP 500.
That relief under the spotlight became even more apparent at the Next Generation ATP Finals in November. And the Czech advanced to the championship match in Milan.
“When I finished my journey in the final and took some time off and took some time to come back to the ground and some time to look back on the next generation, I think every game there, every training session, everything the media around us, everything helped me in a certain way,” Lechica said. “These are the experiences that helped me be more prepared for what came here.”
Navratil believes that “something has changed” at Milan because of his responsibility.
“He’s starting to believe in himself more,” Navratil said. “He also had a couple of chances during the year and he learned from them and grew and got to this point and now he’s enjoying it and he thinks he can beat anyone and I’m very happy about that.”
Former WTA number one Karolina Pliskova followed Lehecka’s progress through the tournament and she impressed with a five-set victory over Cameron Norrie in the third round.
“He has a really good coach, he’s been around with Jiri Vesely. So I think that also helped him gain some experience, but I think the game is very strong,” said Pliskova. “Yesterday I watched a lot of the game with Nuri. I think he’s very aggressive, especially on these fast pitches and I think he can pay off and of course he’s still like a newcomer to some players, so they don’t know him much and I think he can do well.”
While Lehecka hopes to continue in the tournament — he plays Félix Auger-Aliassime in the fourth round — and move up the sporting ladder in the years to come, he wants fans who start watching him to know more than just his tennis.
“I just want them to know that I’m an honest person,” said Lechka. “I really like people who work hard and don’t try to find any excuses.”