One week ago, Jiri Lehecka had not won a match in the main draw of a Grand Slam. Now, he is an Australian Open quarter-finalist.
The Czech’s brand of heavy baseline hitting and silky net play proved too much for sixth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime to handle Sunday on Margaret Court Arena, where Lehecka powered to an impressive 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(2), 7-6(3) fourth-round victory.
“Honestly, it feels amazing,” said Lehecka. “It’s tough for me to find some words because what we’ve been through last year and now coming back to Australia. [I lost] in the first round last year, so of course if somebody had told me before the tournament that I would play like this, then I wouldn’t believe them, but I’m super happy that I’m through and I’m excited.”
The World No. 71 Lehecka fell in the first round at all four majors last season but has upset a series of top opponents across the first week in Melbourne. The 21-year-old, who finished his 2022 season on a high by reaching the championship match at the Next Gen ATP Finals, also upset 21st seed Borna Coric in the first round and 11th seed Cameron Norrie in the third round.
“Of course, all the guys I have beaten over here, all of them are incredible players and I must have played my best tennis,” said Lehecka. “[I had] to show all the cards I have to beat them. Coric in the first round, [Christopher] Eubanks in the second round and Norrie, now Felix. It sounds crazy, but it’s true, and I’m very happy and so excited to continue the journey.”
Lehecka has pedigree when it comes to stringing together victories against higher-ranked opponents. On his ATP Tour debut as a qualifier in Rotterdam last February, he upset Denis Shapovalov, Botic van de Zandschulp and Lorenzo Musetti to reach the semi-finals, where he pushed Stefanos Tsitsipas to three sets.
That ATP 500 event in The Netherlands also saw Auger-Aliassime lift his maiden tour-level title, but the Canadian struggled to find his best level in Sunday’s encounter in Melbourne. That was largely down to a high-quality all-around display from Lehecka, who matched Auger-Aliassime’s power from the baseline and frequently made forays forward to pressure his opponent.
Despite dropping the opening set, Lehecka showed no sign of panicking in his pursuit of a maiden victory against a Top 10 opponent at the fifth attempt. He notched his only break of the match late in the second set to level proceedings before dominating a pair of tie-breaks to wrap a three-hour, 13-minute win in which he won 80 per cent (33/41) of points at the net.
“I felt good even from the baseline,” said Lehecka. “I helped myself with my serve a lot. I know that Felix has a huge serve. He knows how to finish points after a big first serve, so I was trying to focus on my first serve as well and then when we both went into rallies I felt that I was able to beat him from the baseline [too].”
The Czech may now have the chance to avenge his Rotterdam loss to Tsitsipas in his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final, where he will take on the winner of Sunday evening’s clash between the third-seeded Greek and 15th seed Jannik Sinner.