Alexander Zverev holds off ‘incredible young player’ Jiri Lehecka as he back Czech to rise into top 20

Shahida Jacobs
Alexander Zverev during a match

Alexander Zverev used the lessons her learned from the Big Four to battle past Jiri Lehecka in his opener at the Dubai Tennis Championships, but he is predicting big things for the rising star.

After missing the second half of the 2022 season following a serious ankle injury, Zverev made his return at the start of the year and he has struggled to get going.

He lost in the second round of the Australian Open and Rotterdam Open while last week he went down in three sets against Andy Murray in the first round of the Qatar Open.

He looked set to lose three matches in a row as he lost the opening set against Lehecka, but regained his composure to secure a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.

“I didn’t start off the match very well. But these kind of matches are extremely important for me right now. I found a way to win and I’m sure that the next few matches I’ll be playing much better,” the seventh seed said. “Sometimes that’s what makes the best players… If you’re not playing well, you sometimes have to find a way to win.

“That’s what Roger [Federer], Rafa [Nadal], Novak [Djokovic], Andy [Murray] did throughout the last 20 years, so kind of trying to learn from them.”

Lehecka took out three seeded players en route to reaching the quarter-final of the Australian Open and also reached the semi-final in Doha last week.

The Czech looked set to claim another big scalp as he broke in the opening game of the match before Zverev hit back in the sixth game of the second set.

After being broken to love in game five of the decider, Lehecka hit back in game eight only for Zverev to break again in game nine.

The German was certainly impressed by the 21-year-old Lehecka.

“I played him my first match back in Sydney and I had absolutely no chance whatsoever in that match, so I’m obviously happy that I have progressed, I have improved since then,” he said.

“He’s been playing amazing. He made it to the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, beat incredible players last week. He could have won the tournament, lost to Andy with match points like so many did this year.

“I think he’s an incredible young player. Yes, he’s barely inside the Top 50, but my coach said by the end of the year he’s going to be Top 12, I think he’s going to be Top 20, definitely.”

Second seed Andrey Rublev also scored a win on day one in Dubai as he defeated Filip Krajinovic 7-5, 6-2, Italian Lorenzo Sonego beat Marc-Andrea Husler 7-5, 6-3 while wildcard Thanasi Kokkinakis scored a 6-4, 7-6 (11-9) win over Quentin Halys.