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Holger Rune Needs To Develop The Stamina To Go With His Talent

Holger Rune

For the time being at least, Carlos Alcaraz remains the only true wunderkind of men’s tennis: the only one of the talented young male players coming through in the wake of the Big Three to have won a Major, let alone reach world #.1. That is because Holger Rune, who is arguably the only other young male player to match Alcaraz for talent, is yet to develop the stamina and other physical attributes to go with all that talent.

Rune Had Looked Like A Contender For The French Open

Like Alcaraz, Rune is only 20, but he had still looked like a genuine contender for the French Open title this year because he had enjoyed such a spectacular clay-court season going into Roland Garros. He reached finals in Monte Carlo and Rome and won the title in Munich, when he came back seemingly from the dead (or at least match-points down) against Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands to win the title on a deciding-set tie-break.

However, even more impressive than that tennis resurrection was Rune’s defeat of Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinal in Rome, when he played probably the most outstanding tennis seen by any young male player other than Alcaraz in the last year. That performance was hugely impressive for two main reasons. First, after taking the first set 6-2 with relative ease, Rune then withstood the inevitable Djokovic comeback in the second set (which Djokovic eventually won 6-4) to take the third set 6-2, again with relative ease. Secondly, and even more importantly, in the process Rune made the great Serb look, perhaps for the first time ever, every one of his 36 years.

But The French Open Itself Was Different

Although Rune did not go on to win the Italian Open, losing the final in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev, he still came into Roland Garros looking like a potential winner, especially after the draw was made and he ended up on the other side of the draw to Alcaraz, Djokovic and Medvedev. Consequently, he was expected by many to come through the other half of the draw to reach the final.

Of course it didn’t work out that way, as Rune eventually lost in the quarterfinal to another, slightly older Scandinavian, Norway’s Casper Ruud, who defeated him in four sets, 6-1 6-2 3-6 6-3. In the end, Rune did well to extend the match to a fourth set, having won only three games in the first two sets, with the nadir coming in the first set. The BBC’s Tennis Correspondent, Russell Fuller, said of that set that it was probably the worst single set of tennis he had ever seen from any player in a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Quite simply, Rune looked absolutely exhausted against Ruud, almost from the outset. Perhaps that was not surprising after he had won an epic fourth-round match with Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo in a fifth-set match tie-break. But even before he eventually triumphed against Cerundolo (yet another of the phalanx of outstanding young male players coming through), there had been warning signs for Rune.

For one thing, the Dane had virtually given Cerundolo the fourth set, or “tanked” in it, to use the term that is increasingly used to describe a player not giving his very best. He lost it 6-1 and effectively stopped competing after Cerundolo broke his serve early on, in an effort to save himself for the crucial fifth set. And to be fair to Rune, he eventually did win the fifth set and with it the match.

However, it is worth remembering that Rune did not play a second-round match after his opponent, French veteran Gael Monfils, withdrew after the exertions of his own epic fifth-set victory in the first round against Sebastian Baez finally caught up with him. So Rune had less excuse than most players to complain of being tired by the quarterfinal stage.

Does Rune Have A Cramping Problem?

In particular, it is worth asking whether Rune has a problem with cramping, having shown signs of cramping again in the match with Ruud. He had certainly cramped spectacularly in one of his first high-profile matches on the ATP Tour, his quarterfinal loss to Cam Norrie in Lyon before last year’s French Open, when he had virtually finished the match on one leg and had initially appeared incapable of completing it.

If so, Rune would not be alone in being an enormously talented young male player who is yet to develop the physical resilience to go alongside his undoubted ability. The obvious example is Andy Murray who, when he first broke through on the ATP Tour at a similarly young age, was often struck by crippling cramps, especially in five-set matches.

The difference between Murray then and Rune now is that the young Norwegian will play far fewer five-set matches than Murray did in the early part of his career. When Murray began his career, five-set matches were much more common than they are now, as they were still the dominant format in Masters events and Davis Cup ties. Now, the only arena in which players compete over five sets and not three is the Majors themselves, meaning that Rune will have far less chance to build up his endurance than Murray had.

Rune’s Problems Show That The Majors Require Extreme Endurance

The physical problems that Rune is experiencing now are a reminder of the extraordinary physical demands that tennis, especially in the Majors, makes of players, particularly] those who hope to win them. Indeed, they are arguably the most extreme demands imposed by any sport, at least in terms of physical endurance. To win a Major, especially as a man (women, of course, only play three-set matches, even at the Majors), it is arguable that a player needs the stamina of a marathon runner, the physical dexterity of a gymnast and the hands (and mind) of a genius.

Rune already has most of those qualities. With his all-court and all-surface game, he is arguably the only young male player close to matching Alcaraz, who, although he is still only 20 himself, already looks like he could become (if he is not already) the most complete player that men’s tennis has ever seen. However, until Rune develops the staying power to go with all that talent, he will not be able to compete with, let alone defeat, Alcaraz at the Majors.

Main photo credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

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