Australian tennis has regularly experienced fluctuations of talent coming through the system throughout history. For both men and women, it’s either blessed with a golden generation or times of uncertainty. In a nation consisting of over 10 million people, the Czech Republic has always produced top-quality players on a consistent basis. Arguably the two most famous Czech players to have ever picked up a racquet are Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl, who transcended the sport to unforeseen heights. The former won a combined 59 major titles, the most in the open era. Navratilova’s class and obvious talent captured and inspired the hearts of young Czechs aspiring to follow in her footsteps. The latter was a former world number one and an eight-time grand slam champion on the men’s tour. Lendl was one of the leading pillars in shaping the modern game through hard-hitting baseline tennis. As far as the ATP is concerned, the talent coming through is thinner than what it was in years past with the likes of Tomáš Berdych, Radek Štêpánek, and Petr Korda carrying the flag with pride. Jiri Lehecka is now the main hopeful rising up the rankings, but perhaps this could be the first sign of a generational talent gap just as Australia has come to terms with in spurts over the years. For the women, however, tennis remains the heartbeat which has translated into a proud tennis nation.
Currently, there are three Czech women inside the top 10 of the WTA rankings. Marketa Vondroušová (Wimbledon champion earlier this year), Karolina Muchová (French Open finalist earlier this year), and Krejčíková (2021 French Open champion and seven grand slam doubles titles) have undoubtedly proven the depth of the Czech Republic. World number 14 Petra Kvitová, slowly dwindling toward the end of an illustrious career, has been one of the most consistent women on the tour over the past decade, claiming two Wimbledon crowns and multiple deep runs at majors including an Australian Open final appearance. Who can forget former world number 1 Karolína Plíšková? Although arguably past her prime, the 31-year-old has always proven to be an intimidating presence for any opponent on the other side of the net. Just like Australia is known for punching above its weight on the world sporting stage, the Czechs are doing the same when it comes to tennis. Why? Because they are not a wealthy country compared to their European counterparts as it’s a sport notoriously known for benefiting from a rich backing. Everything else, they have successfully managed to execute the controllables. Right down from the junior system, Czech tennis relies heavily on regional clubs where some of the best coaches train the most talented prospects.
Following her Wimbledon triumph as an unseeded underdog, Vondroušová touched on the importance of the strong community tennis clubs all around the country. “The secret sauce in Czech success is made from the preponderance of mostly modest tennis clubs spread throughout the nation, an excellent stable of coaches, and national pride that inspires and feeds on itself,” she said. Unlike other nations, Czechoslovakia has a rule in place whereby players are eligible to compete at higher age levels, which ultimately helps test their abilities against stronger opponents. Focus on facilities and infrastructure across the Czech Republic has allowed for the development of high-quality courts including hard, clay, and grass. No wonder they are always performing above expectations in every major tournament they enter. If you pay closer attention, you will realise that each Czech player possesses their own respective characteristics on the court. From the all-round genius of Kvitová to Vondroušová hand skills and movement to Krejčíková and Siniaková’s net play and volley technique, most Czech players have built different strengths over the years to make them versatile athletes. Whilst the men are rediscovering their potential at the very top, there seems to always be a wave of Czech dominance on the WTA circuit. Can that dominance elevate to the next level with the achievements of further grand slam titles in the future?