A “dream come true” as Lehecka claims maiden ATP title in Adelaide 

13 January 2024, by Richard Llewelyn Evans

The clock had just ticked past two hours and six minutes of intense, first-rate physical play when Jiri Lehecka served up another thunderbolt to claim his first tour title at the Adelaide International. 

There was just one break of serve in each set and almost nothing in the contest as Lehecka secured a 4-6 6-4 6-3 victory. It was tight as these things come and Jack Draper will feel equally aggrieved and proud.

But ultimately it was the increasingly accurate power of the Czech that sealed the day and the Adelaide International crown.

“It’s a dream come true. I always wanted to win a trophy so it’s even better that I won it here in Adelaide in Australia, where I love it,” a jubilant Lehecka said.

Jiri Lehecka claims his maiden ATP singles title at the Adelaide International.

A title that early on had been ebbing the way of Great Britain’s’ Draper – also seeking his maiden tour title – had ever so gradually, but noticeably, turned in the direction of the Czech.

Draper, 22-years-old and six weeks younger than his opponent, initially dominated with a clever strategy of blocking almost every mighty Lehecka serve. It worked wonders as the Czech grew increasingly frustrated, frequently hitting long and wide.

They had not met since competing in an under-14 tournament in Slovakia – a match won by wildcard Lehecka against the top-seeded Draper – and a decade on occupied similar career trajectories, with both men playing in their second ATP final.

“We’ve known each other since we were kids,” said Lehecka. “I feel like we are on this journey together and unfortunately for him, he had some injuries which stopped him from going onwards. 

“He’s a great guy, great competitor. I’m happy that he’s able to compete again fully healthy because he’s such a dangerous player.”

They are in terms of playing style, if not quite opposites, then differently built. Lehecka favours power and thrusting winners, while Draper is more defensive and patient.

While the direction of the match changed sides, the quality of play in this final was always immense. For the first half, Draper was in command, with his left-handed cross-court forehand the dominant stroke.

There seemed just one winner at the end of the first set but after a toilet break, Lehecka steadied himself to become more focused. Shots that were previously going long now found the corners.

 Players who lose the opening set of a three-setter can find themselves losing the match but the Czech responded in the most positive way. 

The turning point came at 4-4 and 0-30 to Draper in the second set. Lehecka would have capitulated 40 minutes earlier but not now, holding his serve with confidence.

The mounting pressure hit Draper in the following game, two loose shots contributing to a 0-40 deficit and then set to the Czech courtesy of a brilliant drop shot.

It had been coming, Lehecka now the favourite, his power now aligned with accuracy and intent. Maybe it took a set to sus’ out the Draper strategy.

“He was the better player for one-and-a-half sets, almost two sets,” said Lehecka. “First set he was playing better in the key moments. I wasn’t playing bad, but I would say I played top-10 (tennis and) he played top-5 sometimes. That was something a bit hard for me to swallow.

“But I just kept believing. I still wanted to win. I never doubted my game at the moment, and I just knew that the time will come, and (at) 5-4, second set, two mistakes, and two times I played well. 

“That was the moment where I just showed the patience that helped me a lot and the third set was a battle.”

“You deserve it and you were the better player today,” Draper said. 

Lehecka will now rise nine places to a new career-high of No.23 in the rankings. “It’s a nice number, Michael Jordan,” he quipped. 

He and Draper move on to contest the Australian Open in Melbourne, where they will player first-round matches on Tuesday.