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Lehecka: 'Tennis Was The Only Option For Me'

  • Posted: Feb 08, 2022

Jiri Lehecka remembers first touching a tennis racquet at three. His grandmother, who competed on a national level, taught his older sister the game, so naturally Jiri wanted in.

“I wanted to do the same. At the moment, tennis was the only option for me. I was doing a lot of other sports. I had a very sporty childhood, I would say,” Lehecka told “But tennis won and of course nothing to regret.”

That decision is proving fruitful. On Tuesday, the #NextGenATP star from the Czech Republic earned his first tour-level win with a 6-4, 6-4 victory against World No. 12 Denis Shapovalov at the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam.

“Of course I’m excited. It was a good match today from my side. Very happy with my performance,” Lehecka said. “I knew that it would be a tough match of course, he’s No. 12 in the world. It is not easy against these type of players.”

Lehecka is making a habit of competing against the world’s best. After qualifying for his first major main draw at this year’s Australian Open, the Czech pushed former World No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov to four tough sets.

“Of course that helped a lot. Every match like this is very good for me,” Lehecka said. “Our plan will be to play these matches as much as we can and move up and up.”

Lehecka is the son of two athletes. His father was a swimmer, and his mother was a track and field star. He has long enjoyed skiing, cycling and swimming.

“I have the genes to be a sportsman,” Lehecka said. “Sport is my passion all the way, up and down.”

Jiri Lehecka

According to Lehecka, who also enjoys hiking in the mountains and playing video games, growing up with more than just tennis has allowed him to develop into a more well-rounded athlete.

“It’s something a little bit different of course, but I think it’s helped a lot and maybe it can even help with tennis with some situations,” Lehecka said. “If you are going up the hill, you need to keep going, or you will fall.”

It has also helped to have parents who understand what it is like to compete in a sport at a high level, even if they did not play professional tennis.

“I think it was pretty good because they know how the sports life looks like. They know how it is,” Lehecka said. “They know the environment around the athlete. They know how it is. The good thing is they know how the body works and they know how to help me in some situations.”

There are currently no Czech singles players inside the Top 100 in the ATP Rankings. But when Lehecka was young, he had the likes of Tomas Berdych and Radek Stepanek to motivate him.

“When I was a young kid, they were winning the Davis Cup and playing incredible matches,” Lehecka recalled. “Every time they played, I was watching the TV and trying to imagine what it would look like if I would be in their position one day and, of course, they gave me a lot of inspiration when I saw all the Czech fans cheering for them.”

Will Lehecka be next in the long line of Czech stars? Only time will tell. But the World No. 137 is making quick progress, and will try to continue his ascent in the Round of 16 against Dutchman Botic van de Zandschulp or Spanish qualifier Bernabe Zapata Miralles.

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Rublev Wins Rotterdam Opener

  • Posted: Feb 08, 2022

Defending champion Andrey Rublev produced an accomplished display to brush past Swiss qualifier Henri Laaksonen 6-4, 6-4 in the first round of the ABN Amro World Tennis Tournament on Tuesday afternoon.

It was the Russian’s first ATP Tour meeting with Laaksonen and the World No. 7 admitted he needed some time to work out his opponent in Rotterdam as a break in each set was enough to claim victory in one hour and 12 minutes.

“I didn’t know what to expect from Henri,” said Rublev after the match. “I know how tough he is because he had some great matches and great wins against great players. Even in Australia, he lost to [Daniil] Medvedev first round, and after the match Daniil told me he was super tough to play against. I didn’t know which level to expect, so I needed to analyse a bit. I’m happy with my performance and I’m happy with the way I was playing today.”

The eight-time ATP Tour champion offered few opportunities on his own serve to the Swiss, saving the lone break point he faced in the match when serving for the first set and completing the win having claimed 82 per cent (27/33) of points behind his first serve.

He is optimistic but also cautious about his chances of defending his title in a strong Rotterdam field. “I just try to focus match by match,” said Rublev. “This tournament is super tough, you have so many great players,” said Rublev. His next opponent will be either Frenchman Hugo Gaston or South Korean Soonwoo Kwon.

Home favourite Tallon Griekspoor saved two match points before going on to upset seventh seed Aslan Karatsev 2-6, 7-6(2), 7-6(0). World No. 14 Karatsev and No. 62 Griekspoor both occupy career high spots in the ATP Rankings, but Griekspoor has shown pedigree in Rotterdam before, having beaten Stan Wawrinka in 2018 and Karen Khachanov in 2019 for his only previous victories over Top-20 players.

It was the second first-round defeat in a row for Sydney champion Karatsev, having also lost his opener against Elias Ymer last week in Pune.


After Karatsev reeled off four games in a row to take the first set, the first meeting between the pair was decided by the Dutchman’s ability to up his game for the second and third-set tie-breaks. Karatsev’s trademark explosive style brought him 32 winners but also 37 unforced errors, and Griekspoor stayed solid to come through in front of a delighted home crowd.

It was the second first-round defeat in a row for Sydney champion Karatsev, who also lost his opener against Elias Ymer last week in Pune. Griekspoor now faces Filip Krajinovic or Marton Fucsovics in the second round.

Karen Khachanov did make it two Russians safely through on Tuesday, holding his nerve to edge out Australia’s Alexei Popyrin 6-7(4), 6-1, 7-6(6).

World No. 28 Khachanov also needed a final set tie-break to win his only previous encounter with Popyrin in Dubai last year, but he looked to have taken control of the match in Rotterdam after breaking twice to ease to a one-sided second set. Popyrin found his game again in the third, however, as the players exchanged breaks before Khachanov eventually sealed victory in a tense deciding tie-break with his third match point after two hours, 33 minutes.

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Anderson Blasts 21 Aces Against Querrey, Nakashima Advances In Dallas

  • Posted: Feb 08, 2022

Kevin Anderson earned his first win of the season on Monday, delivering 21 aces to power past Sam Querrey 6-4, 6-4 and into the second round of the Dallas Open.

“I thought it was a court where you had to take care of your serve and I definitely was able to do that today. In two games, I got a look on a few serves, played some good points and I was able to capitalise on both my break points,” Anderson said. “Really, even though it was 4 and 4, it was a very close match. It came down to just a point here or a point there.

“It easily could have gone to a tie-break and then in those conditions, I think anything can happen. I think overall, I’m really pleased to get through that in straight sets.”


The South African lost just four first-serve points (30/34) and did not face a break point against Querrey.

This was the 17th meeting in the pair’s ATP Head2Head rivalry, which Anderson now leads 9-8. They had not clashed since the 2018 New York Open final. That tournament moved to Dallas from this year.

“We’ve been playing each other sometimes multiple times a year. It’s been a few years since we last played each other, but our careers have really intersected for a number of years,” Anderson said. “He’s a great player, he’s a great guy off the court. It’s always a tough match playing him.”

In the other Day 1 main draw match, 2021 Milan competitor Brandon Nakashima eliminated Australian John Millman 7-5, 7-6(3).

“It was a very tough match. With John, he’s always going to fight every point and you’re going to have to work hard every point. Serving big was huge to get some free points and in the rallies I just tried to be aggressive most of the time and just stick to my game plan. I’m very happy that I pulled it out in the end.

Nakashima is now 8-0 at all levels against Australians (16-1 in sets). The 20-year-old, who is pursuing his first ATP Tour title this week, hit 15 aces and saved two of the three break points he faced.

The home favourite will next play Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez or another Australian, Jordan Thompson.

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In 'Game Of Inches', Nakashima Trying To Take Next Step

  • Posted: Feb 08, 2022

Last season was big for rising American Brandon Nakashima. The 20-year-old is hoping 2022 will be even bigger.

“Tennis as most people know is just a game of inches and anyone in the Top 100 can beat anyone on a given day. It’s just [about] taking care of the little things on the practice court, always trying to improve,” Nakashima told “I know my game is right there with all the top players. It’s just a matter of the little things, a few points here and there and taking all the experiences in.”

The #NextGenATP star has had plenty of those experiences early in his young career. Just a few weeks ago, Nakashima pushed eventual semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini in a tight four-setter at the Australian Open. In that match, he had set points to take a two-sets-to-one advantage.

The Californian learned plenty from a moment like that. He hopes to use those lessons moving forward as he continues his ascent on the ATP Tour.

“Playing at the big stadiums against the big players was a cool experience. Playing inside Louis Armstrong Stadium at the US Open and Margaret Court Arena in Australia this year, those are experiences that you can’t really get anywhere else,” Nakashima said. “I just try to take those in as much as possible and try to learn from it, too.”

One year ago, Nakashima had still not cracked the Top 100 in the ATP Rankings. He had only earned three tour-level wins. By the end of July he had reached two ATP Tour finals (Los Cabos, Atlanta) and in November he climbed to a career-high World No. 62.

“Last year was a great, great building year for me with the results and then obviously with my game and confidence knowing that I belong at the top and I have the game to play with the top guys,” Nakashima said. “This year it’s a matter of being consistent each week and being able to back up the good results this year to help with the ranking and the confidence.”

Part of that is building consistency. Nakashima admitted that not everything was perfect last year. During one stretch before the grass-court season, he went 6-11 at all levels.

“I learned you have to take every moment as it is and try to think positively on everything,” Nakashima said. “Overall, you have to keep improving your game and sticking with it.”

One of his biggest moments of the year came in November, when he competed in the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan alongside the best 21-and-under players in the world. During the offseason, Nakashima then took two weeks off. The first he spent at home with family in San Diego relaxing before they vacationed for a week in Florida.

“The tennis year is so long, and there may be some tough moments, so it’s [important] to take those off-court moments and try to make the most out of them,” Nakashima said. “[I enjoy] just hanging out with family and friends, spending time with them. Just going to new places that I’ve never seen before, trying new things. It always gives you a greater perspective in life.”

Nakashima also spent two weeks in Florida with former Top 10 star — and doubles World No. 1 — Emilio Sanchez Vicario. The American earlier in his career spent time working with Pat Cash. He also worked with Serbian Dusan Vemic for more than a year.

“You’ve always got to be open to trying new things. Sometimes hearing a new voice is good for the game and to get a second set of eyes from a top player and also a top coach, it’s always great,” Nakashima said. “You decide what to take from it, what to learn and try to learn and apply it to your game as best as possible.”

One of Nakashima’s biggest points of emphasis is to “get a little more physical out there” on the court.

“It’s building up my strength in the gym, getting a little stronger and quicker out there. Just keep improving the weapons as much as possible,” Nakashima said. “All the top players, their weapons are so big and they always have them in their back pocket, so I think just having those weapons and improving them, making them better and trying to improve overall are important.”

The American has plenty of goals for the season, including lifting his first ATP Tour trophy. On Monday evening, he will face John Millman in the first round of the Dallas Open to begin that pursuit.

“I’m very excited about this year. There are going to be a lot more opportunities this year playing higher-level tournaments, playing more top players and I’m just trying to keep improving my game as much as possible,” Nakashima said. “[I am] trying to experience new things and take the best out of every possible situation.”

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