Jakub Mensik’s family did not play tennis. But as a boy in Prostejov, Czech Republic, the sport surrounded him. Just 100 metres away was a school that had tennis courts next to the playground. Five-hundred metres away were private courts.
At that location, there was a sign that read they were looking for a new Petra Kvitova and Tomas Berdych.
“I was watching the guys from the neighbourhood playing and watching also the little kids. They also had practices, they were starting their tennis career,” Mensik told ATPTour.com. “So then I just came to my dad or my mom and just asked them if I can play also, and of course they always wanted me to do some sports. That’s how I started.”
It was fitting that on Monday when Mensik served with a two-sets-to-one lead and a 4-2 advantage in the fourth set of his match against Gregoire Barrere at the US Open, Berdych himself walked by the court as he followed his charge, fellow Czech Jiri Lehecka, to his match. The former World No. 4 very briefly looked at Court 6, and no fans recognised him.
All eyes were on Mensik, now 17, who became the youngest man since Borna Coric in 2014 to win a main draw match at the US Open. The teen’s father, Michal, works in IT and played ice hockey while his mother, Katerina, works in marketing and PR, and skied.
So how did Mensik fulfill the local sign’s request for a future Czech star? It all starts with his childhood coach, Ivo Muller, whom Jakub and his parents had high praise for.
“He was the best man because he could grow the right love of tennis to the small children,” Michal said. “And he also taught the parents to be good tennis parents.”
Tragedy struck on 6 June 2013, when Muller died after a brief battle with cancer. It hit the Mensik Family hard.
“[Jakub] was very small. He was seven. But I think this was his first experience with such a situation,” Michal said. “He was sad and it was the first chance we had to speak with him about death, these kind of situations. I think he was sad of course, but life goes on.”
By that point, Muller had already instilled a love of tennis in Mensik that remains with him today. There was no doubt by 12 that he wanted to become a professional tennis player.
“I just played tennis,” Mensik said. “I did athletics once but it was just in school, just one or two times per week. I watched just basketball because with my height, it was easy to put the ball in the net.”
While Mensik became a big Golden State Warriors fan because of Stephen Curry and liking the team’s jersey colours, blue and yellow, it was all tennis all the time.
“He always wanted to be a professional tennis player,” Michal said. “He wanted to win all the Grand Slams and to be No. 1.”
By 16, he was one of the best juniors in the world. Last year, at 16, he reached the Australian Open boys’ singles final and lost an epic final to American Bruno Kuzuhara. His performance in the match led to a relationship with Novak Djokovic.
“He sent a video of himself talking to me, and asking me if I wanted to come, that he saw the match and he saw what happened. And if I wanted to, he was looking for a sparring partner for one week in Belgrade to hit,” Mensik said. “So I was like, ‘Okay, why not?’ He is one of the best or the best in tennis. So I said, ‘Okay, let’s do that.’
“I came there and we hit a few times. I wasn’t just with him on the court, but also off the court and talking with him not just about tennis, but all the stuff off the court. So it was very fun and off the court he’s the nicest guy I ever met. When you cross the street and look at him and talk to him, you’re not sure if this guy is a tennis player. When he’s talking to you, it’s just a normal person.”
Mensik also joined Djokovic for a week in Montenego last year ahead of Wimbledon and even spoke to the Serbian briefly this week in New York. At Flushing Meadows, the #NextGenATP star is proving he is more than just a top junior, but a threat in the main draw of a major.
In his first attempt to qualify for a Grand Slam tournament, he did so successfully. And in his first tour-level match against an established player in World No. 59 Barrere, he looked comfortable on court and triumphed in four sets.
It is not bad for someone who still has one year left of high school back home. His teacher even sent congratulatory messages after he beat Barrere. Mensik’s parents are keen for him to complete this level of schooling.
Michal explained that Jakub has said: “I have to focus on school and I cannot focus on tennis and it’s terrible.”
But that has certainly not impacted his performance. Entering the week of US Open qualifying last year, Mensik was World No. 882. Now he is No. 162 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings.
On Wednesday, Mensik will play another major debutant, Titouan Drouguet, for a place in the third round. If the 17–year-old wins, he will become the youngest man to reach the third round of the US Open since Fabrice Santoro in 1990.
But in the longterm, the boy who always rode his bike to his local courts to play a sport he loves has even bigger goals.
“Of course to be on the top of the world. I can say that I want to be first in the world and also winning the Slams and ATP Masters [1000s],” Mensik said. “That’s I think the dream for everyone who is playing tennis and I am the same. But I want to be on the Tour and playing these tournaments with the best of the world.”