Jakob Hlasek

Born: November 12, 1964 in Praha (Bohemia)
Height: 1.87 m
Plays: Right-handed
Born as Jakub Hlásek, his parents fled with him from their country to the French-speaking area of Switzerland during the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Richard Krajicek‘s parents (Krajíček) did the same, but Krajicek was born in the Netherlands three years after those events. On paper, Hlasek displayed similar skills to Stefan Edberg and Pat Cash. These three players, born in the mid-60s, were more or less the same height, right-handers, and serve-and-volleyers. They possessed a more stable backhand than forehand, and their technique became obsolete in the second half of the ’80s, as they were using just one grip for all strokes, characteristic of wooden racquets.
One significant difference between Edberg and the other two players was that the Swede had better control over all basic elements of tennis craftsmanship. Cash and Hlasek especially, both had a faster first serve, but Edberg’s serve could be considered overall better, given his distinctive second delivery. Cash enjoyed a much better career at Slams than Hlasek, managing longer distances adeptly. However, Hlasek (only one major quarterfinal, in Paris ’91), largely uninjured, in terms of events played, enjoyed a much prolonged career than Cash. Ultimately, each collected five Grand Prix/ATP titles. The difference between Edberg and Hlasek was particularly visible when they were facing each other, it happened as many as 16 times (only once in a final) and the Swiss got only one victory. Nonetheless, the Swede needed deciding tie-breaks thrice.
In the initial years on the tour, Hlasek held a solid Top 50 position. However, in the latter part of the ’88 season, a transformative shift occurred when he switched his racquet from Kneissl “White Star Pro” to Puma “Becker Winner” (photo) – a racquet with a distinct futuristic shape and coloristic – and underwent a change in hairstyle to a classic crew cut; this alteration bore a striking resemblance to Ivan Drago, a fictional character from the widely popular film at the time “Rocky IV”. These changes seemed to spark a remarkable transformation in his performance, as he exhibited an awesome level of play, triumphing in matches across four continents, almost week after week.
It all started in New York at the US Open, where he reached the fourth round and played a competitive 4-setter against the then-best player in the world, Ivan Lendl. After a week’s break, he flew to Asia (South Korea) for the Olympics to win two matches, returned to Europe in October to begin his superhuman effort: five indoor events within six weeks (including exho in Antwerp), playing 4 or 5 matches in each of them, securing his maiden title at Wembley. Directly from England, he flew to Africa (Johannesburg), winning another trophy, this time outdoors, only to play the third successive final, in Europe (Brussels, indoors) the following week.
All these events allowed him to jump from No. 29 to No. 8, which meant that after being a runner-up in Belgium, he joined the top eight players of the world in New York in the season-ending championships. Despite the astonishing intensity of his appearances, he stunned Lendl in his first match at the “Masters,” trailing 2:4 in the 3rd set, won two more matches, only to be beaten in the semifinal by Boris Becker after two tie-breaks. Between his two New York events, Hlasek achieved a 32-7 record, while in the first three quarters of the season (being injured in the first quarter), he had just 17-8.
Like many players before and after, Hlasek remained a one-season man, or more precisely, a man of an amazing five-month period. He transferred his great form of Autumn ’88 to the first two months of 1989, triumphing in Rotterdam, reaching the Lyon final, and narrowly losing the opening, extraordinary match in Dallas (WCT Finals) to Lendl. That bitter loss basically concluded an interval between tournaments on US hardcourts when he was winning more matches than any other player on the tour. He was never the same in the aftermath.
Hlasek, a player of two decades, defeated at least once all the greatest players of the late ’80s and early ’90s, having the best Head-to-Head against them, facing John McEnroe, stunning him twice 7-6 in the third sets at Paris-Bercy. In a trivia note, Hlasek is the only Open Era player to lose two gruelling five-setters within a few days. It occurred in the Davis Cup tie (Euro-Zone) between Switzerland and Israel in 1986. On a Friday in St. Gallen, Hlasek was defeated on carpet by Amos Mansdorf 2-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 10-12. Two days later, he suffered a heartbrekaing loss to Shlomo Glickstein 3-6, 6-1, 6-8, 12-10, 9-11. Hlasek’s poor 12-20 record in five-setters (38%) explains why he performed below expectations at majors, despite his ability to be a dangerous floater in the ‘best of three’ format on all surfaces.
Career record: 432–330 [ 307 events ]
Career titles: 5
Highest ranking: No. 7
Best GS result:
Roland Garros (quarterfinal 1991)
World Team Cup 1996 champion
Hopman Cup 1992 champion
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