From ‘Small Boy’ In London To Elite Rival In Turin: Rune On Nitto ATP Finals Bow

  • Posted: Nov 11, 2023

From ‘Small Boy’ In London To Elite Rival In Turin: Rune On Nitto ATP Finals Bow

20-year-old plays defending champion Djokovic in opening match

Holger Rune’s Nitto ATP Finals debut has been more than just a year in the making.

The 20-year-old’s first competitive appearance at the prestigious season finale comes four years after he attended the event as a hitting partner for the world’s top players. Among those he hit with in London in 2019? Roger Federer, and the player he takes on Sunday in his opening match in Green Group — World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.

“It’s amazing,” Rune told ATP Media on Friday after being shown a video of his 16-year-old self hitting with Djokovic at the 2019 edition of the Nitto ATP Finals. “Mostly knowing that there was a small boy practising being a hitting partner, to now competing against [Djokovic], it’s cool.

“I felt like I didn’t want to miss a ball because I was afraid that they were getting mad at me, because you want to do the best for them. But now I don’t want to do the best for him on the court.”

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After surging into the Top 10 of the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time at the end of the 2022 season, Rune has backed up his breakthrough year in style. He has racked up a 43-22 record, which includes defending his crown in Munich, reaching ATP Masters 1000 finals in Monte-Carlo and Rome and reaching the quarter-finals at Roland Garros and Wimbledon.

“It’s been it’s been a big goal for me,” said Rune, who was the final player to book his spot in Turin. “Being in the season and in the moment, you don’t think so much about it, but as we got closer and the race was very close for me with other players, it was a goal that I really wanted to achieve.

“I wanted it badly, and I got it, so I’m very happy and satisfied with that. Now we’re here, so I’m just going to take my chance and do everything again.”

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Struggles with fitness and form tested Rune’s mental resolve late in the year, but a semi-final run in Basel followed by a quarter-final appearance in Paris were signs that the Dane was rediscovering his level. Rune believes his difficult run nonetheless provided an opportunity to develop.

“Especially the last few tournaments, I’ve been playing better tennis and got back to my level and [have been] improving,” said Rune. “It was a tough period after Wimbledon for me, but it’s normal. Sometimes you have good and bad moments, but it’s just important to learn, and I’ve definitely learned.”

Rune could hardly have asked for a tougher test to open his Nitto ATP Finals career. Djokovic is chasing a record seventh title at the season finale and his second in a row after winning all five of his matches in Turin in 2022. Two wins in four previous tour-level clashes against the Serbian mean Rune has a blueprint for a path to victory on Sunday, however.

“You cannot wish that he misses a shot or wish that he has an off day,” said Rune. “He loses probably four to five matches a year, so he doesn’t have off days. The only wish you can have in yourself is to try to play your best tennis and be the most focused on the court in your life. You have to be ready to give everything.

“I do enjoy playing him, because it’s amazing to share the court with such a legend and we’ve always had great battles together. Last time in Paris was [last week], it was also another good battle. So I have to learn a little bit from that and do it a bit different this time, so I can get the win.”

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Like his fellow 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz, Rune has rarely shied away from testing his skills against more experienced opponents during his rise. The World No. 8 may enter Turin as the second-youngest and lowest-positioned in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings of the eight competitors, but he will relish every moment he has on court.

“For me, [the pressure] is a lot of fun,” said Rune. “When I don’t have this, it’s more boring, to be honest. These kinds of events excite me, and they’re events that you want to qualify [for]. If you asked me, I would wish there was eight of these events a year and not one, but it also makes it more interesting for the fans and for the player that it’s one time in Turin. Whoever’s going to play the best tennis and be mentally the strongest is going to take the title.”

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