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A lightweight in the shadow of a legend. A win over the king of clay? He kept waving, there were tears

Jiří Lehečka, currently the best Czech tennis player, scored an extremely valuable scalp. On clay in Madrid, he defeated Rafael Nadal in the first match between them and thus advanced to the quarterfinals of the prestigious tournament. On the contrary, for the Spanish legend, it was the very last appearance at the home event. “I think that life and my body have been sending me messages for some time that this day had to come,” said the former world number one in an emotional interview.

Jiří Lehečka (right) scored an extremely valuable scalp. He defeated the legendary Rafael Nadal at the tournament in Madrid.

| Photo: Profimedia

As a little boy, he watched Rafael Nadal’s dreamy ride to Grand Slam laurels and imagined in his head what it would be like to meet the royal sports icon face to face. Now the hope of Czech tennis, Jiří Leheček, this lifelong wish has finally come true.

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And despite the natural respect for one of the best tennis players in history, whose very last year on the elite circuit awaits this year, the native of Mladoboleslav gave an absolutely sovereign performance in the 4th round of the tournament in Madrid. He embellished his exceptional day by advancing to the second quarter-final at the Masters (following his performance in Indian Wells in March).

Nadala, who was pulled to victory by the packed terraces of Spanish supporters, eventually defeated Leheček in two sets 7:5 and 6:4. “To be on the court with such a legendary player is something amazing. It’s a dream come true. I’ve always wished for this day to come,” revealed the 31st player in the ATP ranking right after the match.

After which, even the fans of the clay king, who has already triumphed in the capital five times in his phenomenal career, applauded him with appreciation. “I’m really very grateful and I wish Rafa nothing but the best. But it’s kind of bittersweet to have a win like that in front of all those people who were rooting for him. The energy during the match was amazing,” added the 22-year-old talent to the audience.

Lehečka, who scored one of the most valuable victories in his career so far among the tennis elite in Madrid, now awaits the fourth player in the world, Daniil Medvedev from Russia, in the battle for the first semi-final at Masters tournaments.

A gift that is more than any Grand Slam

However, all this remained somewhere in the shadows at least for the rest of the evening. The scene in the central courtyard of the Madrid campus belonged to a farewell legend. Huge applause from the packed stands and tears not only in the eyes of family members, but also of the 36-time ATP Masters 1000 champion himself. The clay king had to say his last goodbye.

“It was an unforgettable week for me. I had a chance to play on the court again. A few weeks ago, I didn’t even know if I would be able to start a match, and now I got the opportunity to play in my favorite tournament,” said the holder of 22 Grand Slam titles modestly.

“Perhaps all I can say now is one big thank you. It’s been an incredible journey that started when I was still young. I came to Madrid for the first time in 2003, when the tournament was still played indoors. And now I’m standing here as a five-time champion,” Nadal reflected.

During the interview, he himself realized that he was actually standing on this court for the last time as an active tennis player. “Over the past 21 years, you have given me a gift that is more significant than any Grand Slam won. The emotion of playing in Madrid in front of my fans is something that will stay with me forever,” added the Spanish legend.

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However, for the native of Mallorca, what means most is the legacy he left for future generations of promising tennis players. “I’m so lucky to have had all these experiences. I hope I have set a positive example for the new generations. That’s the most important thing for me,” he concluded in front of an applauding audience.

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