PUNE: Sportspersons are reminded to ‘stay in the moment’, over and over again. But such emotional isolation can only be pursued, and not always achieved. Injury struggles in the past few months and the possibility of making the cut for the next Grand Slam — French Open —lurked at the back of his mind as Jiri Vesely attempted to close out the quarterfinals.
The Czech, despite having more than a decade’s worth of experience on the pro tour, needed five match points to edge past Ilya Ivashka 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (11) and enter the semifinal of the Tata Open Maharashtra, at Pune’s Balewadi Stadium on Friday. It is the first time since the 2018 Antalya Open that Vesely finds himself in the final four of an ATP event.
“After all the things that have happened in the last two years: I injured my groin in 2018 and I did have a good result at Wimbledon but then I got injured and suddenly dropped in the rankings,” said the 26-year-old, who had fallen to 142 in the rankings in 2019 after reaching a career-high of 35 in 2015.
“To come back is not really easy. You have to go to the Challengers and beat the guys around 100. It’s not easy. Everybody wants to gets into the slams. So I know what I have gone though in the last 12 months. The way back is really tough. Now when I have the opportunity to earn the points to be safe for Paris, it made me nervous. But now I will try and push it as far as possible and do well.”
Vesely, who defeated Next Gen star Alexander Zverev in the first round of Wimbledon last year, started off hesitantly against Ivashka in their quarterfinal clash. Standing at 6’6, Vesely’s big lefty serve is one of his biggest weapons but he didn’t hit the mark often enough and was broken twice in the opener.
Admittedly frustrated at his level of play, Vesely turned the tide in the second as he started taking the ball earlier and playing more aggressively.
“My mind was broken,” said the big man, after the match. The only option was to hit through, and Vesely went for his shots. He broke the Ivashka serve thrice to motor through the second set.With both the players holding on to their serve, the deciding set went into a tie-breaker and Vesely felt the nerves again. His forehand, the weaker wing, faltered. He made five forehand errors, the last two of which came on match points. On the fifth opportunity to close out the match, Vesely missed his first, but thanked his stars as Ivashka dumped the return off a weak second serve into the net.“You have to get through, stay calm, get everybody ball back,” he said. “He can get nervous as well. And he did.”