It was back in 2019. British Junior Anton Matusevich was getting set to play Holger Rune in the Wimbledon Juniors tournament. As he told the Daily Mail’s Laura Lambert, “…The guy has no life, he just plays tennis every bloody day…he’s got nothing in his life apart from tennis to do.”
Coming into the 2021 season, that was the quote for which many tennis fans knew Holger Rune. The Junior No. 1, a product of the Mouratoglou Academy, an academy with a reputation for creating a sense of entitlement amongst players, created an interesting aura around the (then) 17-year-old coming into the season.
*Note: Rune’s reputation wouldn’t be helped later in the year when he made homophobic comments on court during a match, an offense which brought a fine his way. Rune has apologized for what he said.*
Ranked at World No. 1019 in the men’s rankings when the season began; the 2021 season had the feeling of being a “first step” for Rune on his journey in professional tennis.
However, the Dane certainly exceeded expectations and had a breakthrough year.
Holger Rune in 2021
Rune started 2021 making three consecutive ITF singles finals, winning one and losing two championship matches. Along the way, Rune was already starting to pick up impressive victories over players such as Geoffrey Blancaneaux, Zizou Bergs, Carlos Gimeno Valero, and Jonas Forejtek.
Following that string of ITF events, Rune played an ATP Tour match in Buenos Aires, surprisingly grabbing a set from the gritty veteran Albert Ramos Vinolas, but ultimately falling in three sets.
From there, Rune continued to play on the ATP’s “Golden Swing”, qualifying for Santiago and making the quarterfinals. This included big wins over Sebastian Baez and Benoit Paire.
Following the win over Baez, his main-draw victory, Rune explained to ATPTour.com, “It’s a great feeling to win my first ATP match. I was playing very good and was very focused on the court and didn’t make any bad decisions. I was controlling my game and my attitude.”
And while would end up losing to Federico Delbonis a couple matches later, he would be at a ranking of World No. 317 following Santiago, a remarkable jump from where he was at the beginning of the season.
However, the Rune hype-train seemingly slowed down following that ATP Tour event in Santiago. Rune would fail to win consecutive main-draw matches at any level until late May when he played the Oeiras 4 Challenger. However, it is important to note that Rune qualified for the ATP 500 in Barcelona with a couple impressive victories, especially his 6-0, 6-2 win over Mikael Ymer in the first round of qualifying.
In Oeiras on the Portuguese clay, however, Rune took his game up a notch. Rune made his first Challenger final, falling narrowly in the final to Gastao Elias from a set up. It was a monumental week for Rune, his game finally fully coming together. Rune was able to find a balance for his groundstrokes where he was hitting with both power and depth without overhitting. His serve had finally become a weapon, as well.
It is worth noting that Rune was continuing to struggle with cramps at this time, an issue that had plagued him throughout much of the early season.
Regardless of the cramping issues, however, Rune had set a new standard for his level of play that he worked hard to upkeep. In his very next tournament on the clay of Biella, Rune won his first ATP Challenger Tour title. The Dane beat Marco Trungelliti 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(5) to win the title. Rune also had to beat tough players such as Daniel Altmaier and Tomas Etcheverry to even get to that final match against Trungelliti.
At this point, following Biella, Rune’s ranking was at an astonishing World No. 231. And he continued to pile up good results throughout the rest of the summer.
From Biella until US Open qualifying, Rune had two Challenger quarterfinal runs, a Challenger semifinal appearance, and two more Challenger titles in San Marino and Verona. Cramping wasn’t nearly the issue that it was previously, with Rune in much better shape physically. The ball was exploding off of Rune’s racquet as he dominated from the baseline and forced opponents on the defensive.
But, in New York, Rune faced his stiffest test. In the sweltering heat and humidity of August of New York City, coming immediately after San Marino and Verona, Rune navigated every obstacle thrown his way during the qualifying. Rune took down Lukas Lacko, Mitchell Krueger, and Mats Moraing to qualify for the first Grand Slam he had ever participated in at all. He only dropped one set, to Moraing in te final qualifying round.
Rune had a very tough first round draw against Novak Djokovic, but he fought valiantly, even getting a set off of the Serb in the 1-6, 7-6(5), 2-6, 1-6 loss.
After the US Open, Rune would experience burnout after playing so much during the 2021 campaign, but still post good results here-and-there. He qualified and made the quarterfinals of the September ATP-Tour event in Moselle, before falling to Pablo Carreno Busta in three tight sets.
Rune would win his fourth Challenger of the season in November’s indoor-hard Bergamo Challenger, taking down Cem Ilkel 7-5, 7-6(6) in the final. Rune’s game was seemingly translating to a variety of different surfaces, whether it be clay, outdoor hard, or indoor hard. He was able to play power tennis without the elements in Bergamo and fight through some tough opposition.
Rune told the ATP’s Josh Meiseles regarding that final, “I think the most difficult thing about this final was the mental aspect. He played an excellent tournament, he expressed his best tennis. We had played in similar conditions a couple of years ago and it was a battle, but again I found a way to win.”
And towards the very end of Rune’s season, he would get the chance to play in the Next Gen Finals. The Dane would go 1-2 in the event, beating Juan Manuel Cerundolo, but falling to Carlos Alcaraz and Brandon Nakashima. Regardless of the results, it was certainly a boost of confidence and proved to the world, again, that Rune could play with some of the best young players in the world.
So, where does Holger Rune go from here?
Currently just outside of the top 100 at World No. 104, the top-100 breakthrough feels more like a formality at this point. Rune will certainly want to continue ramping up his physicality, as he definitely has room to grow in that department.
Rune’s transition game could be slightly improved, as could his rally tolerance. But, I’m really nit-picking here, as Rune has truly had a breakthrough 2021 season and 2022 could be even better, albeit with some road bumps, as he makes the transition to the ATP Tour.
While Anton Matusevich might have mocked Holger Rune for it, the Dane’s work ethic certainly seems to have paid off.
Main Photo from Getty.