Inspired By Berdych, 17-Year-Old Mensik Making Challenger Rise
“Because of Tomas, I started to play tennis.”
Jakub Mensik grew up watching Tomas Berdych light up the ATP Tour. The former World No. 4 would often practise in Mensik’s hometown, Prostejov, Czech Republic, where the 17-year-old had the chance to first meet Berdych in 2011.
“I was five and I was one of the hundreds of kids who played with him, one point in Prostejov,” Mensik told ATPTour.com. “It was kids day [at a Challenger event], and Tomas Berdych and Ivan Lendl came to be there with the kids and enjoy the time. 12 years ago, I was just a little kid watching him and watching his matches. I met him and took a photo with him. At that time, he didn't know who I was, but now it's a completely different situation.”
It is a ‘different situation’ now because Mensik is a fast-rising star on the ATP Challenger Tour, trying to follow in the footsteps of Berdych. In May, the teen won his first Challenger title on the clay courts of Prague. A month later, while competing at his home tournament in Prostejov, Mensik and Berdych played an exhibition match on kids day at the UniCredit Czech Open, the same event where they posed for a picture in 2011.
“[Tomas] has not played for four years but in Prostejov, he's the player of the club. He would practise there and played Challengers there, like the Czech Open,” Mensik said. “It was really fun, I really enjoyed it. Because of Tomas, I started to play tennis. Now I had the opportunity to play with him.”
In just his sixth Challenger outing, Mensik edged Berdych by two months to become the youngest Czech Challenger champion in history (since 1978). Mensik joined elite company in Prague, becoming one of four 17-year-old Challenger titlists in the past five years: Jannik Sinner (2019), Carlos Alcaraz (2020), Shang Juncheng (2022).
Despite being able to count how many Challengers he has played on two hands, the World No. 217 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings stated that he is learning quickly.
“When I started this year playing a couple Challengers, it's a completely different level than playing Futures,” Mensik said. “I played a few Challengers in Thailand and then a few in Europe, I was like a new guy there. I knew I could play with those guys, but I didn't have the experience. After a few tournaments, I really started to trust myself and play my best game.
“In Prague, that tournament I felt very special on court. From the start, I beat the top seed [Radu Albot] and after that match, I was like, 'Let's continue'. Match by match, I felt more comfortable on the court. Then in a few days I became a champion. I felt very special and it was a very good experience for me. After losing in first rounds and qualifying rounds, I think it was faster than I expected.”
The 2022 Australian Open boys’ singles finalist is aiming to continue his rapid rise with a goal of being at the Next Gen ATP Finals, an eight-player field that features the season’s best 21-and-under players. Mensik is currently 20th in the Pepperstone ATP Live Next Gen Race.
“Of course to be part of the Next Gen Finals would be really good. At the start of the season, I was losing matches and now the last few months, I've played well so I can see the ranking is moving,” Mensik said. “Let's see what the next tournaments will bring but it will be very nice. It's of course one of my goals. But the big goal is to be a part of the US Open. It would be my first Grand Slam. US Open would be really good and moving to the Top 200 would also be very good.”
In order to achieve those goals, Mensik is working hard on the ATP Challenger Tour. The teenager is in action at this week’s Concord Iasi Open, where he will aim for the highest-ranked win of his career when he meets top seed Bernabe Zapata Miralles in Friday’s quarter-final.