Jiri Lehecka and Sebastian Korda have both arrived in the quarter final of the Australian Open – and in grand slam terms – for the first time in their young careers and it wouldn’t surprise many if they didn’t go further during the second week.
If somebody told me before the tournament that I would play like this then I wouldn't believe them but super happy that I'm through and excited Jiri Lehecka
The Czeck, Lehecka, took out the sixth seed in four sets, while Korda, of the US, clawed his way past the 10th seed in a tense decider of a five-setter.
Lehecka, despite having never won a Grand Slam match before last week, outplayed Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime 4-6 6-3 7-6(2) 7-6(3) after three hours and 13-minutes.
Despite dropping the first set, Lehecka refused to roll over raising his own game to dominate the second and held his nerve to come through two tiebreaks to make the last eight and extend his excellent run.
So far the 21-year-old over the past week, has had an extraordinary run, triumphing over 21st seed Borna Coric in the first round, 11th seed Cameron Norrie in the third round and now the sixth seed in the fourth round.
“What we’ve been through the last year and now, coming back to Australia (after) losing in the first-round last year.
“If somebody told me before the tournament that I would play like this then I wouldn’t believe them but super happy that I’m through and excited.
“All the guys I’ve beaten here are incredible players and I must have played my best tennis and to show all the cards I have to beat them,” Lehecka continued. “Coric in the first round, [Christopher] Eubanks in the second round, Norrie then Felix. It sounds crazy but it’s true and I’m so excited to continue the journey.”
And with reference to his journey so far, he added: “Honestly it feels amazing. To be in the quarters, I wouldn’t have believed it if somebody had told me this when I was on my way over here. I’m super excited about everything that will come next. Of course, I’ll try to do my best to recover well and to show my best tennis again in my next match.”
During the match he showed the maturity of an older player and didn’t panic after dropping opening set.
“The first set was not that bad from my side. After that, I was just trying to focus on my return because he was serving pretty well, and I was trying to find the solution to return better. I managed to do that. I felt holding and focusing on my serve will be the most important thing. In the first tiebreak, I was playing much better. In the second tiebreak, it was 50/50. I played one incredible shot, a forehand down the line which he totally didn’t expect to happen. That was a few moments where I played great tennis and also he helped me with a few mistakes.”
Much on the same lines, Korda defeated Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 3-6 6-3 6-2 1-6 7-6(10) to make his debut in the quarter finals.
The contest though didn’t come to life until the fifth set when the duo slugged it out from behind the baseline as they each attempted to gain an advantage.
Korda had to save consecutive break points serving at 5-5, and then was down 3-1 in the ‘match’ tiebreak before winning six consecutive points.
He lost the next three to get things back on serve but then won a lengthy rally – which saw Hurkacz run into one of the clocks on the side of the court – to get back on top.
Korda, who beat 2021 and 2022 finalist Daniil Medvedev in the third round, eventually prevailed 10-7 in the ‘match’ tiebreak.
The Korda family is very sporty. Father Petr won the Australian Open back in 1998 while mother Regina was also a professional tennis player. His sisters though chose golf as a sport and both are Australian Open champions in that discipline.
Acknowledging his family’s sporting credentials, and hoping to emulate his father in Melbourne, Korda said: “They stayed up. My oldest sister, she’s not playing this week. My other sister Nelly, I think she’s second place right now playing in a tournament.
“I just got off the phone with them. They’re going to try to go to bed. My dad’s birthday tomorrow here. Early birthday present in a way.”
Korda also counts Andre Agassi as a mentor and touches both his father’s name and Agassi’s on the walk of champions when heading out to the Rod Laver Arena.
“Every single time I walk by, I always give (them) a little fist pump,” said Korda. “Kind of makes me feel like they’re with me in a way. I always know that they’re watching. They’re both very special for me. They helped me a ton.”
Korda will face Karen Khachanov, the 18h seed who defeated Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka bizarrely 6-0 6-0 7-6(7) to progress.
The Russian is showing form this year at Melbourne Park and played some of his best tennis in his fourth-round clash with the 31st seeded Japanese.
Khachanov delivered a staggering double bagel to open the match, leading 6-0 6-0 in just 46 minutes.
He couldn’t have been more dominating in the first two sets losing just two points in the second. Nishioka in fact earned only 13 in the two bagel sets to Khachanov’s 51.
Thankfully the Japanese recovered in the third set, even earning a break point in the opening game. After falling down 0-2, Nishioka finally won a game – the 15th of the match – and then broke back to get things on serve and hold and – surprisingly in the circumstances – force a tie break where again Khachanov’s form dominated for a straight sets win.
The last match on the men’s schedule was expected to be the match of the day and it lived up to expectation featuring the tournament’s 3rd and 15th seeds, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Jannik Sinner.
After four hours Tsitsipas crossed the finish line having scored a 6-4 6-4 3-6 4-6 6-3 defeat on his Italian rival and will no doubt relish his chances of going deeper into the event next week when he faces the unseeded 21- year-old Jiri Lehecka for a place in the semis.
As the score line suggest it was the Greek No.3 – the highest seed left in the event – who dominated the initial stages only for the young Italian to turn the tables in the third and fourth leaving the match hanging on the decider.
Sinner, who lost an epic five-setter to Carlos Alcaraz in the US Open quarter finals, seemed to have the momentum, but he lost his way at the wrong moment and Tsitsipas thrilled the many Greek fans packed into the Rod Laver Arena by completing victory after exactly four hours.
The Greek, a semi-finalist in three of the last four years, is now one match away from at least emulating those runs.