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Indian Wells: Lehecka Conquers Nakashima

Mar 10th 2024

Lehecka conquers Nakashima 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach Indian Wells third round

Brandon Nakashima from California, won the NextGen ATP Finals in the fall of 2022 but has since struggled to find the level that catapulted him to #43 at the age of twenty. That same year on home soil in San Diego, he won his lone title to date.

His ranking dropped precipitously to #151 last November but has climbed to #93 due to his recent success on the Challenger Tour. At the season’s first ATP Masters 1000 event, he entered the main draw as a wild card. 

Jiri Lehecka also twenty-two, has been making his own noise the last two years due in part to his outstanding performances at the 2023 Australian Open where he reached the quarters (l. Tsitsipas) and the 4th round at Wimbledon (l. Medvedev via ret). The Czech native finished last season ranked #31 with an impressive 34-26 w/l record. 

At the start of this season, he won his first title in Adelaide (d. Draper) and as a result, attained a career-high ranking of #23. His ranking has since dropped to #32, unable to defend quarterfinal points at the Australian Open, and with another retirement last week in Dubai, his fitness could be in doubt. 

Credit: Getty Images

This was their fourth meeting and second at tour level. Nakashima led the head-to-head 2-1 including two straight-set victories (RR & final) at the 2022 NextGen ATP Finals while Lehecka prevailed in three tight sets last summer at the Masters 1000 event in Canada. 

The American won the toss and elected to serve. He missed 5/8 first serves, gifted four unforced errors, and dumped serve. Lehecka donated two unforced errors including a double fault and gave back the break. 

Nakashima made 5/5 first serves including an ace up the tee on game point and Lehecka returned the favor with an ace up the tee to level at 2-2. Nakashima missed 5/10 first serves and faced two deuce points yet held for 3-2 while his opponent gifted three unforced errors including another double fault and dropped serve.

Nakashima made 4/5 first serves and held easily to consolidate the break for 5-2 and Lehecka, serving to stay in the set, held at love for 3-5. After thirty-seven minutes, little to no drama, and his first forehand winner, Nakashima secured the set 6-3

The #32 seed served first in the second and with a sweet forehand drop volley, held to 15 while Nakashima opened with an error, his first double fault, faced deuce yet held. 

Lehecka made 3/5 first serves and with an overhead smash held to 15 for 2-1 while Nakashima crushed an overhead smash and held to 30 for parity.

While both struck the ball with conviction and pace, the match teetered on tedious; at times, the Indian Wells crowd appeared more engaged than the players. Nerves; perhaps. Nakashima competing in his home state in front of a partisan crowd, while Lehecka the final seed in the draw, is playing under the weight of expectation.  

Lehecka opened the fifth with two consecutive errors but with his second ace, held for 3-2. Nakashima opened with a netted forehand but with his second ace, held easily to 15 for 3-3.

Lehecka upping the ante, struck two outstanding forehands and an ace out wide for 4-3 while Nakashima succumbed to the pressure with four unforced errors to dump serve. 

Lehecka served for the set and despite two additional errors including his third double fault, clinched it 6-3 with a well-placed serve and inside-out forehand. 

The American served first in the decider and wished he hadn’t; with a slew of second serves, he faced deuce, break point, and dumped serve with a mishit forehand.

Lehecka opened and closed his first service game with aces and consolidated the break at love. Nakashima, with the crowd in his corner, missed 4/6 first serves but with an incredible backhand stab volley winner, held to 30 to get on the board.

With the stakes exceedingly high, the combatants were on high alert. Lehecka demonstrated physical and mental tenacity in the fourth game of the final set. He made 12/18 first serves including his sixth ace but with his fourth double fault came a second break point. With patience, power, and two consecutive winners, he survived and held for 3-1.

While the American’s serve continued to betray him, he managed to hold for 2-3. The first point of the seventh game was jaw-dropping as both scrambled from corner to corner while dialing up the pace and pressure. 

Lehecka determined to end the point at the net, stood and watched as Nakashima ripped an extraordinary forehand pass down the line. He struck two winners including his seventh ace but with three consecutive errors including his fifth double fault, dumped serve.

The partisan crowd loud and proud, showered their native son with cheers and applause as he made 4/4 first serves including two aces to consolidate the break at love. The momentum seemed to have shifted in his favor, but Lehecka remained steadfast. Serving with new balls, the world #31 hit two consecutive winners including an ace out wide to level at 4-4.

Nakashima made 3/5 first serves but with four unforced errors faced triple break point and dropped serve. Lehecka opened the tenth with a crisp crosscourt backhand volley and after 2 ¼ hours, secured the set and the third round when Nakashima missed wide with a backhand down the line. 

Lehecka finished with eight aces, and five double faults and won 68% of first and 55% of second serve points. He struck 22 winners to fifteen unforced errors and saved 2/5 break points while converting 4/6. The stats indicate that it was a solid performance, but he will need to better navigate the inevitable swings in momentum and concentration to further progress. 

Next up is the 5th seed, Andrey Rublev. The Russian has been playing exceedingly well this season with a title in Hong Kong to open the season, the quarters at the Australian Open, Rotterdam, and Doha, and an inexplicable default in the semis in Dubai. Rublev’s best performance in the desert was in 2022 when he lost in the semis to eventual champion, Taylor Fritz.

The Russian leads the Czech 2-1 in the head-to-head including a straight sets win in the second round at Indian Wells last year. This promises to be a high-octane battle between two worthy combatants.