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‘An Emotional Crisis’: Relieved Lehecka Reflects On Match-Point Challenge Drama

Czech recovered to defeat Paul in five-set thriller at Wimbledon
July 09, 2023
Jiri Lehecka defeats Tommy Paul in five sets Saturday at Wimbledon to reach the fourth round of a major for the second time.
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Jiri Lehecka defeats Tommy Paul in five sets Saturday at Wimbledon to reach the fourth round of a major for the second time. By Andy West

Jiri Lehecka had little time for regrets on Saturday as he battled for a fourth-round spot at Wimbledon against Tommy Paul.

The Czech was match point up in the fourth-set tie-break when he stopped play to challenge a forehand from his American opponent. Hawkeye went on to confirm the ball had clipped the line, Paul ultimately claimed the fourth set and the pair’s maiden Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting headed for a decider on No. 12 Court.

“My mind wasn't in a good state at that moment, because the way I lost that match point was a mistake from my side,” Lehecka later told “I took a challenge to Hawkeye at a moment where it wasn't necessary, and it was a big mistake... It was like an emotional crisis at that moment.”

There was a happy ending for Lehecka at SW19, however. The World No. 37 recomposed himself to complete a 6-2, 7-6(2), 6-7(5), 6-7(9), 6-2 triumph and reach the fourth round at the grass-court major for the first time.

“I didn't really feel good [after the fourth set], I was already seeing myself winning that match,” explained the Czech. “But I knew that the only way to get through was to push myself to the limit, and to bounce back and to mentally recover in the beginning of the fifth set. That's what I did during the toilet break, and the fifth set was good set from my side.”

Lehecka’s triumph against the 16th-seeded Paul was in stark contrast to the two straight-sets wins with which he opened his Wimbledon campaign. The way he dispatched Sebastian Ofner and Eastbourne champion Francisco Cerundolo in south-west London was impressive for a young player who had played just two tour-level matches on grass prior to June.

“At the beginning of the grass court season, I was a bit more confident about myself,” explained Lehecka. “Because I already had that experience from last year when I lost a tough match here, but still played two tournaments on grass before. I knew what to do better, I knew where I needed to improve, and together with experience from my team and from myself, what I gathered this year, I felt that my game can fit very well on the surface. So far, it's alright.”

Lehecka’s recent development has been bolstered by the presence in his corner of his countryman Tomas Berdych. The former World No. 4, who reached the final at Wimbledon in 2010, joined the 21-year-old’s team as a semi-regular coach earlier this year, and Lehecka believes the arrangement has been particularly beneficial for his grass-court game.

“The advice he gave me on this grass season was that it's more about details, the game style and that these matches are not won by two or three things. There are a couple more things which are very important to keep my eye on during important moments. During tie-breaks, for example. Then of course, it's very important to focus on my serve and return, even more than on clay or on hard courts, because these two shots are the most important shots in tennis, I would say, but moreso on grass.

“That led to us practising serving and returning a lot during last week and also this week. We were trying to work on specific serving methods. He was trying to do some different styles of serve for me, to [show me how to move] into the right position on return. So return and serve are two things we have focused on a lot here.”

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Lehecka has now registered a personal-best 24 tour-level match wins this season and is up five places to No. 32 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings as a result of his first-week exploits at Wimbledon — a mark that would be a new career-high in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Instead of thinking of his progress in milestones, however, the Czech remains determined to take things one small step at a time.

“I always try to do my best on court, and the ranking will come if I play good,” said Lehecka. “This is my mindset. I always try to win as many matches as I can, win tournaments. I go into every tournament with the mindset that I believe in myself and that I can win it. If I do it, then it's good. If I win matches, then it's also good. If I lose matches, then it's not good. So it's easy for me to say that I know that I have the level to be where I am.

“I'm really confident about going even higher. Of course I don't want to speak about whether I will win Wimbledon or if I am one of the favourites. I just want to speak about my mentality, which is that I'm very confident about my game style.

“I think that my playing style fits very well on grass, and if I keep my mind sharp, and if I really try to do my best and I play every point as it allows, then I think that I have good that good chance to go even further in this tournament.”

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