The United Cup has provided the opportunity for new partnerships and friendships to form, with stars from the ATP Tour and Hologic WTA Tour joining forces to guide their countries to success.
For Czech Republic’s Jiri Lehecka, it has been an aspect of the mixed-teams event that he has loved. Over the past week, the 21-year-old has spent time with 29-time tour-level titlist Petra Kvitova, a legendary figure in the sport who he has long since admired.
“I remember watching Petra in the Wimbledon final in 2011 when she beat Maria Sharapova. It was amazing,” Lehecka told ATPTour.com. “I was 10 years old at that time, so it is pretty funny and cool I am now here with her. We laughed about that earlier this week. Her career has been tremendous and she is such a good player.”
After enjoying a breakthrough 2022, the Next Gen ATP Finals runner-up is looking to grow his game further in just his second year on tour. In contrast, the 32-year-old Kvitova is competing in her 17th season at this level.
Eager to learn, Lehecka revealed that the former World No. 2’s experience and guidance have been invaluable around the team camp in Sydney.
“She is a Grand Slam champion which speaks for itself. She is perfect and trying to help us,” Lehecka said. “She is speaking about her own experiences, which she gained through her own career. She is really relaxed and always brings a good mood to the locker room, which is something we need here.
“Just to listen to her speaking about the match when she is watching is really interesting. She has a different point of view than other coaches. She has been through everything, now she is sitting with you at the bench and telling you how she sees it which is very interesting. She gives you good tips."
With Kvitova’s words of support ringing in his ears, Lehecka equaled the biggest win of his career by Pepperstone ATP Ranking when he upset World No.12 Alexander Zverev on Saturday to help Team Czech Republic defeat Team Germany 3-2.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, who earned victories against Jessica Pegula and Laura Seigemund in Sydney, has been thrilled to provide support for the younger stars of the team.
"It's great vibes,” Kvitova said. “The boys are really trying to go up and it's great. It's desire, they have the fire inside, they really want it. I'm at the point of my career where I still want it, but of course when I was younger and I was going up it's a different story than now. It's nice. It reminds me of when I was young and I had a lower ranking and trying to go up."
Having gained valuable experience last year and this week in Sydney, Lehecka is ready to push on at the start of 2023.
“Last season was about gaining experience,” said Lehecka, who reached the semifinals in Rotterdam last February. “Gaining information about the players, about the events, how to do the schedule. To have these things in my backpack and to go with them into the new season makes a big difference. I am looking forward to using these experiences this year and I think it will be beneficial.
“I am trying to play aggressively and this game is working right now. I am feeling great on court at the moment, which is the most important thing for me.”