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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Jiri Lehecka's first trip to Tennis Paradise was so profound, he felt himself living "a small fairy tale."

These days, Lehecka is controlling the narrative making Masters magic.

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Striking clean, commanding strikes, Lehecka dismissed Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 6-4 charging into his first career Masters 1000 quarterfinal in Indian Wells.

World No. 32 Lehecka beat Tsitsipas for the first time in three meetings, snapping the Greek's 13-match winning streak against opponents ranked outside the Top 20.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, Lehecka was thrilled just to be part of the draw.

This year, Lehecka has been a human wrecking ball knocking out No. 5 Andrey Rublev, 6-4, 6-4, in the third round before topping Tsitsipas today.

Lehecka is the first Czech to reach a Masters 1000 quarterfinal since Tomas Berdych at the 2017 Miami Open and first Czech to reach the last eight in the desert since Berdych in 2015.

"For me to come here, for example, last year it was, like, a dream, you know, it was my first time playing Indian Wells, first time seeing these amazing stages, you know, amazing fans," Lehecka told the media in Indian Wells. "So I was a bit like, it was, for me, like a small fairy tale, I would say, being here. I was very happy that I made it to my first Masters last year.

"But we felt in the end of last season that the results on these big tournaments were not what we wanted, and that I had some chances to go further in the tournaments, to play better, and to beat some players, but I did not accomplish that."

Enter Berdman.

Tomas Berdych joined Lehecka's coach, Michal Navratil, in Indian Wells this month and his experience has helped the Adelaide champion navigate a tough draw.

"There is still many, there are still many moments where I'm, like, yeah, what is this, how do I feel, what should I do, how should I react, what kind of shots should I make or what I should not do," Lehecka said. "And that's one of the reasons why having Tomas here with me is very good, because he has much more experience than I have, and with his willingness to share it, it's just great for me to have him here by my side and to have some support even from these kind of guys like him who've been through this all many times, and who knows how it works."

Though Berdych retired from the Tour by the time Lehecka debuted in 2021, he grew up with coach Navratil and reconnected with his old friend via text to praise Lehecka's potential.

"He knows my coach, Michal Navratil, very well. They have been together, you know, they know each other since they were kids, they were traveling together in early stage of his career," Lehecka said. "They were best friends on tour for some time. Of course, their paths has changed.
"But that was one of the reasons why we got in touch. After my good run at the Australian Open last year when I was ithe quarterfinals, Tomas texted to Michal, and said, like, just like that I played well, that he liked the way how I played, and then they just stayed in touch.

"He was in Dubai last year where we met, and just we spoke a lot. I just asked him if he would like to travel with me for a few tournaments to help me and to get back on the track from this different position, and he liked that idea. So we agreed."

The man nicknamed Berdman, known for some of the strongest legs on Tour during his playing days, has helped Lehecka take flight by emphasizing the ground game. Berdych has encouraged Lehecka to use his leg strength, both driving through his shots, and to move up into the court to recognize and attack mid-court balls.

"All the tips he gave me were, like, connected with working more with my legs, working more forward and backwards, you know, during the points," Lehecka said. "So we worked on this, and we spoke about these things mostly in the beginning of the week, in the beginning of the tournament when we had some time to prepare ourselves. We had some time to practice more, to spend more time on the court."

This career-best Masters run has propelled Lehecka to No. 27 in the live rankings ahead of his quarterfinal showdown against either Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner or US Open semifinalist Ben Shelton.

Photo credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty