Rising star Jiri Lehecka of the Czech Republic scored the biggest win of his career on Thursday as he sent top seed Andrey Rublev of Russia packing in three sets to reach the semi-finals of the $1.5mn Qatar ExxonMobil Open.
Lehecka, just 21, rallied from a set down to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 against Rublev, the World No.5. It was Lehecka’s first win over a top-5 player and his 11th in the new season.
Lehecka now plays former champion Andy Murray of Great Britain in the semi-final today. Murray, the 2008 and 2009 champion in Doha, Thursday delivered another fighting performance to beat French qualifier Alexandre Muller in three sets.
After a slow start in the first set that was clinched by Muller, Murray switched on his attack mode to seal the deal in the next two for his 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 win in 2 hours and 3 minutes. Murray, now 23-4 in Doha, fired 9 aces in the thrilling centre court clash.
In the day’s other quarter-final, third seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia braved a tough challenge from Christopher O’Connell of Australia to reach the semi-finals in his maiden Doha appearance. Medvedev won 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in 1 hours and 58 minutes.
Last month, Lehecka beat World No. 7 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada for the biggest win of career and to reach the 2023 Australian Open quarter-finals. Thursday, the promising Czech looked the part as he unraveled Rublev’s strong all-court coverage for his biggest win yet.
“Yeah, it sounds great,” Lehecka said when reminded of his win over Auger-Aliassime in Melbourne. “Honestly, these two weeks and these two months are very, very great for me. I am very happy that I got a chance to play here. I was very much looking forward to playing here in Doha on this beautiful centre court. So yeah, I’m very happy with the win and I am looking forward to tomorrow,” he added.
Lehecka said he has improved the mental side of his game to come through a tough week in Qatar
“I improved everything, but mostly my mentality. On the court I gained some confidence at the Next Gen finals and then I just learned how to use it and. I just feel great on this court with these balls. It’s an incredible atmosphere over here. I am really looking forward to another match. I am very happy that I had a chance to play here,” Lehecka said.
Murray, who has also lost two finals in Doha besides winning a couple of trophies, said he had to make quick changes in his game after losing the first set at 4-6.
“I had to start going for my shots a lot more. In the first set, I wasn’t doing enough with the ball and he was dictating a lot of the points, making me do a lot of running. And like you say, I’ve obviously played a lot of tennis the last few days, and that wasn’t going to give me the best chance to win the match. I stepped up. I started taking a few more chances, trying to come to the net when I got the opportunity and managed to turn it around,” Murray said.
The three-time Grand Slam champion praised Muller for his performance in Doha.
“He had an excellent tournament coming through qualifying. He’s had some good wins over the years. I saw last year he beat (Richard) Gasquet and he beat Tsonga too. I knew it was going to be a tough match. He plays very well, hopefully with more experience, you know, playing at this level, he’ll be back here more often in the future, but he plays very well,” Murray said.
After 18 years on the ATP Tour, Murray on Thursday surprised fans by answering whom he beat in his first Tour level quarter-final.
“I remember. Let me, let me think,” Murray said with a smile. “I’m going to say my first tour level quarterfinal was in Bangkok. Is that right?”, Murray asked the moderator at the post-match interview. He was right and Murray also correctly responded by saying he ‘lost to (Roger) Federer in the final’.
Murray, 35, said he is expecting a dogfight in the semi-final today against Lehecka.
“He (Lehecka) started the year extremely well. He had a great run at the Australian Open. One of the best young players on the Tour. I’m sure some of you saw his match today. He hits a huge ball from the back of the court. Great ball striker. So yeah, big test for me and hopefully I can, I can put on a good performance,” the Olympics gold medallist from the 2012 and 2016 Games said.
Medvedev candidly admitted that O’Connell, 28, proved to a tricky opponent.
“Maybe because definitely at five, all in the third,” Medvedev said when asked if he had more experience than his rival at key points. “The tiebreak was really close, but you have your last chance to break him and try to serve for the match. I managed to play quite a good game. He missed a few shots which he didn’t miss before. So winning the important moments in the match helped me get through,” he added.
“Everything depends on small moments, sometimes confidence, sometimes pure luck. Sometimes it’s kind of 50-50 where one time you’re going to win, one time you’re going to lose. I lost some close matches in my life. I won some. I am just trying to use my experience to make it better. But it doesn’t work all the time, so I’m happy it worked today.