Holger Rune looked to the mostly-empty stands, screaming and clenching his fist. It was the end of what was a very tough journey for the 18 year-old rising star from Denmark. Rune had just beaten Germany’s Mats Moraing 6-4 3-6 6-3 to qualify for the US Open. It broke a streak of 17 sets in-a-row for Rune, but the Dane won’t care. He was into the main draw of a Major.
Ranked at a career high of World No. 145 coming into the qualifying tournament, up from World No. 473 at the start of the year, it was Rune’s first-ever Slam qualifying campaign. If that wasn’t impressive enough, Rune had only played three hard-court tournaments all season, none about the ITF $25k level.
And not even fatigue, nor a change in both surface and continent, could slow Rune down!
Holger Rune in 2021
Before this week in New York City, one could find Holger Rune constructing points beautifully and sliding around the picturesque European red clay. Rune had played two clay Challenger tournaments leading up to US Open qualifying, winning the titles in both events that he entered.
Rune’s run started in San Marino, where he took down players such as Salvatore Caruso and Marco Cecchinato before coming back from a set down to win against Orlando Luz in the title match. Rune’s run in San Marino almost came to a halt shortly after it started, as he was down 2-6, 0-4* to Caruso in the second round. Rune came back to win that match and hasn’t lost since.
Throughout the tournament in San Marino, Rune did a great job attacking second serves and putting his opponents on the defensive. Nobody Rune faced in San Marino won greater than 50% of their second-serve points.
In Rune’s next tournament in Verona, he didn’t drop a set. That doesn’t mean he was facing easy competition, however. Rune still had to beat players like Matheus Pucinelli de Almeida and Carlos Taberner before taking down Nino Serdarusic in the final 6-4, 6-2.
Again, no opponent all week won more than 50% of their second-serve points against Rune. In addition, the Dane was only broken three times in five matches. For a clay-court tournament, that is a very impressive statistic and shows how dominant Rune was on-serve. But, it also shows how clutch the Dane was, as he saved 20 of 23 break points.
This was great for Rune, but it felt like grinding on clay in Europe for the two weeks prior to US Open qualifying seemed like it could have hurt his chances in New York. Would Rune fatigue? Would the cramps that had hampered him in the past make a return? And how would he adjust his game to hard courts?
Rune made it look easy.
US open qualifying
Again, Rune’s serve came through for him in US Open qualifying. In his wins over Lukas Lacko, Mitchell Krueger, and Mats Moraing, he dropped serve one time in the three matches combined. Rune also won over 75% of his first serves in all three of these matches and looked so comfortable from the baseline, utilizing his aggressive forehand and backhand and not allowing his opponents to drag him into long rallies. Rune also relies on his excellent anticipation and awareness for when is the right time to pull the trigger on his groundstrokes.
And it all paid off in New York, as Rune qualified for his first-ever Grand Slam.
So, who will Rune play in the first round of the US Open? None other than 20-time Major champion and 3-time US Open winner Novak Djokovic.
This will be the ultimate test for Rune. The matchup with Djokovic will test every aspect of Rune’s game. Djokovic will test how Rune handle his serves coming back right at his feet. The Serb will test Rune’s ability to play with controlled aggression and be aggressive against one of the best defenders tennis has ever seen.
In the backhand-to-backhand exchanges, Rune will have to find a way to match Djokovic’s depth and not give him short balls to attack. Rune will also have to problem-solve different ways to make Djokovic uncomfortable from the forehand wing. Does he err on the side of redlining and hope he can maintain enough control to survive? Or does he play more defensively and hope Djokovic has an off-day from the baseline?
This will be also be a physical and mental test, as Djokovic is one of the fittest and mentally tough players on the ATP Tour. Rune’s certainly mentally tough himself and is confident, having won 13 matches in a row. But, Rune’s never faced a player of Djokovic’s quality and will definitely feel at times like Djokovic is just playing a different game than his 13 previous opponents.
But, no matter what happens against Djokovic, the US Open has already been an incredible success for Rune. He’s managed to get both his game and physical conditioning in a place where he can win two clay Challengers in Europe and then go and play top-notch tennis on hard courts in the United States.
Holger Rune’s future is certainly bright.
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