Lehecka Advances To Madrid Semifinals After Medvedev Retires

Daniil Medvedev and Jiri Lehecka (photo: Mateo Villalba/MMO)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 2, 2024 (by Michael Dickens)

After World No. 4 Daniil Medvedev completed the set of quarterfinals at all nine of the ATP Masters 1000 events by reaching the last eight stage at the Mutua Madrid Open earlier this week, the No. 3 seed from Russia aimed to become just the fifth player to play in the semifinals of all nine active ATP Masters 1000 events.

Coming into his Thursday evening quarterfinal against No. 30 seed Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic, who eliminated five-time Madrid champion Rafael Nadal in the fourth round, the 28-year-old Medvedev owned a 14-5 record in ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinals and looked to extend his 24-match winning streak against players ranked outside the Top 30.

Meanwhile, Lehecka, 22, was playing in just his second ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal after reaching his first at Indian Wells in March.

As it happened, on a cool, dry spring evening with the roof open on Manolo Santana Stadium, Lehecka advanced to his first Masters 1000 semifinal after Medvedev retired following the first set, won by the young Czech 6-4.

Medvedev left the court for treatment on his right upper leg, ahead 3-2. He appeared to be having trouble moving to his right. Medvedev received further treatment on court to his right adductor two games later, leading 4-3. However, Lehecka broke Medvedev in the ninth game and consolidated the break on his way to winning the set 6-4. After the 41-minute set had ended, Medvedev retired. It was an understandable decision. After all, Medvedev is the defending champion at next week’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome with 1,000 points to defend.

“It’s never easy in a match like this,” Lehecka said in his on-court interview, discussing Medvedev’s retirement. “If I were to choose the way how to win this match, it wouldn’t be like that. So of course, it’s never easy to see your opponent struggling, but at that moment, you just need to focus on yourself, trying to get the maximum level out of yourself.”

The 31st-ranked Lehecka, who had moved up to No. 27 on PIF ATP Live Rankings thanks to his surprising run in Madrid, will rise to No. 22 with his quarterfinal win. On Friday evening, he will face No. 35 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada in the semifinals. If Lehecka wins to reach the final, he will make his debut inside the Top 20 and could climb to No. 17 by winning the Madrid title.

Friday’s earlier semifinal will pair World No. 8 Andrey Rublev of Russia, seeded seventh, against World No. 13 and 12th seed Taylor Fritz of the United States.

Around the Caja Magica

No. 11 seeds Jamie Murray of Great Britain and Michael Venus of New Zealand rallied from a set down, in which they did not win a game, to beat No. 16 seeds Sadio Doumbia and Fabien Reboul of France, 0-6, 6-4, 10-2, to advance to the semifinal round.

The British/Kiwi duo overcame six double faults and converted their only break-point chance during the 65-minute match. Next, Murray and Venus will play unseeded Sebastian Korda of the United States and Jordan Thompson of Australia, who defeated No. 12 seeds Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori of Italy, 7-6 (5), 6-4, in an hour and 15 minutes. The winners combined for six aces and outpointed their opponents 72-60.

Also, unseeded Ariel Behar of Uruguay and Adam Pavlasek of the Czech Republic advanced to the semifinals with an upset of No. 15 seeds Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow of the United States, 6-3, 4-6, 10-6, in 67 minutes. Behar and Pavlasek outpointed their opponents 67-51 to advance to the final four.

Next, Behar and Pavlasek will face No. 2 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina, who saved four match points during the match tie-break against No. 7 seeds Hugo Nys of Monaco and Jan Zielinski of Poland, and won on their third match point, 4-6, 6-2, 16-14, in one hour and 31 minutes.

The 2021 Madrid Open champions, Granollers and Zeballos, rallied from a set down, converted two of four break points and outpointed their opponents 65-63.

How Lehecka handled his once-in-a-lifetime experience playing Rafa

During his post-match news conference early Wednesday, Jiri Lehecka was asked how he prepared for the experience of facing Rafael Nadal knowing that everyone in Manolo Santana Stadium would be cheering for the Spanish icon and not him.

“Yeah, that’s a good question, because I don’t really think that there is any way on how to prepare for this,” Lehecka said. “Because, you know, the moment in the last game of the match which I experienced where there was 13,000 people screaming, ‘Rafa, Rafa,’ cheering for him, almost like all the time, is something I have never experienced in my life. I doubt that I will experience this kind of thing ever again.

“For me, it was very important just to focus on myself. I kind of do this trick that in my mind I try to create, like, illusion that they are cheering for me. Because that’s the only way how to deal with it.”

Lehecka added: “If you start to think about that and if you start to think about there is 13,000 people, everyone is against you, no one wants you to win this point, then you don’t really need to be there on the court because you already lost.

“That’s why I tried to focus on myself on the things I try to do in the next point, the way I want to toss on my serve and all this stuff, because you need to get these things away from your mind somehow, somehow. Every player has different techniques. Every player is doing something else.

“I’m doing that I’m trying to imagine that they are cheering for me. Yeah. That’s the way how I tried to stay calm in the last game.”

Thursday’s Mutua Madrid Open results

Friday’s Mutua Madrid Open order of play

By the numbers

By advancing to the semifinal round following the withdrawal of top seed Jannik Sinner, Felix Auger-Aliassime is through to his third ATP Masters 1000 semifinal after Miami in 2019 and Paris in 2022. This is his first on clay. The 23-year-old became the second Canadian semi-finalist in Madrid after Denis Shapovalov in 2018. He has risen 11 spots and advanced to No. 24 in the PIF ATP Live Rankings.

“Quotable …”

“I returned really well in the first set, put a lot of balls in play. To be honest he was making some mistakes so it made me look a lot better and I was finding some balls to attack on for sure. The second set and third set, I feel he got a lot more solid. He was not giving me anything for free and it was really hard to hit through him and find balls to attack on. He was getting the backhand through the court.

“It was tough to look for forehands. It was really tough from the ground but I just had to hang in the match with my serve and fight through some points even though I didn’t feel super comfortable. I took my chance when I got it.”

Taylor Fritz, during his on-court interview, after defeating Francisco Cerundolo, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, to earn his 250th career ATP Tour-level win, which advanced him to the Madrid Open semifinals.