Czech fell to Nakashima in title match

Jiri Lehecka may not have finished the 2022 season by lifting the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals trophy on Saturday, but the 21-year-old leaves Milan with a positive outlook thanks to his performance at the year-end showcase.

After winning his third ATP Challenger title in August on home soil in Liberec, the Czech's rise up the Pepperstone ATP Rankings was slowed by an inconsistent close to the season. Now Lehecka can look forward to 2023 with renewed confidence after reaching the final in Milan.

"This has been a great end to the season," he said of the 21-and-under event. "After some tough losses in the past few weeks, after the US Open, I wasn't feeling very comfortable on court. I didn't feel like it was going the right way.

"So this for sure has been a great impact to my game and to see what I need to work on again. To [help] improve stuff we need to improve to get to the highest level and compete against the best guys. In the past few weeks, I've shown that I have the game to beat top guys — that I have the tennis I need for playing very good tennis."

Despite his 4-3(5), 4-3(6), 4-2 defeat to Brandon Nakashima in Saturday's final, Lehecka enjoyed his time at the Allianz Cloud this week.

"This is an incredible event. I enjoyed this week fully," he said. "I'm very happy that the ATP organised something like this, because it's a nice gift for players to be able to compete in this event. For me, it was the best end of the season that I could wish for. Unfortunately, I didn't get a win today, but if somebody told me before this season that I would be in the final, I would take it, for sure."

Lehecka finishes the season at No. 74 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, after reaching a career high of No. 59 in August. His best result came at the ATP 500 in Rotterdam, where he reached the semi-finals after coming through qualifying and earning his first tour-level wins.

The Czech recorded a 13-19 tour-level record in 2022 and a 17-9 mark on the ATP Challenger Tour. 

"Now I will focus for sure to keep in the Top 100 and to stay there," he said, "and to move on and forward to make that transition from the ATP Challenger Tour level to ATP Tour level, and to [reach the] Top 50 even faster."

Lehecka will begin the 2023 season by joining Petra Kvitova and other Czech teammates at the inaugural United Cup in Australia from 29 December-8 January.