March 28, 2023

Jiri Lehecka celebrated his 21st birthday in style at the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals Tuesday when he cruised past Francesco Passaro 4-1, 4-3(7), 4-1 to move to 1-0 in Green Group.

The Czech is making his debut in Milan and made a strong opening statement at the 21-and-under event, quickly adapting to the first-to-four, best-of five set format to triumph after 67 minutes.

“I have never played a match in this format before,” Lehecka said. “In the beginning I was getting used to it a little bit. I think I adapted well. We have used this format in practise and I got used to it pretty fast and it was fun.”

Lehecka pulled Passaro around the court with his consistent groundstrokes, firing 18 winners and breaking serve three times. With just 15 seconds between points following aces or missed returns, he also raced through his service games to earn victory.

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The World No. 74 has enjoyed an impressive season. He reached the semi-finals as a qualifier in Rotterdam in February, before he clinched an ATP Challenger Tour crown in August.

Lehecka will also play American Brandon Nakashima and Matteo Arnaldi during the round-robin stage in Milan. Nakashima will face Arnaldi on Tuesday evening in Green Group.

Passaro held a 29-15 record on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2022, lifting a trophy in Trieste.

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