• Tournament
  • Scores
  • Media
  • Tickets
  • Hospitality
  • Practical information
  • Animations
  • JOBS

The Rise of Holger Rune


This story is courtesy of atptour.com

“I don’t want to be number two.”

Holger Rune does not hide his ambition. From his early days as a professional tennis player, the Dane has made clear that he is aiming for the very top.

“My goal is to be No. 1 in the world and win Grand Slams,” the 20-year-old told the ATP in Denmark earlier this year.

Many players shy away from sharing such lofty goals. But Rune has worked too hard and come too far.

Tennis is Rune’s life, and he has dedicated every ounce of his being to achieve his goals. Last November, the fruits of that labour showed in the emotion on his face on Championship Sunday at the Rolex Paris Masters.

Having defeated four Top 10 opponents in four days, the Dane stood across the net from all-time great Novak Djokovic. Rune was nervous, but more determined than he was fearful. The Dane stunned Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to win his first ATP Masters 1000 title.

“It felt unreal actually. It was a very emotional moment,” Rune said. “[I won the] title in Stockholm, finaled in Basel and then won in Paris. So it was such a long trip and run that I had. And you know, it was a big relief. I was a little bit in tears after that final because it was so much hard work. And I finally got over it and managed to win.

“I just had to let it all out. And to play this final against Novak, I mean, it almost can’t get bigger. So it was huge for me.”

It was proof that Rune’s lifetime of effort was paying off.

Rune began his tennis journey at three years old in Denmark, where he played with a ball in his family’s garden. His parents, Anders and Aneke, knew Holger could do more with a racquet than other kids his age.

“But it doesn’t mean that you think he can become a professional tennis player,” Anders said. “Of course you believe in your kids. But it’s during the process you see it getting more and more real.”

A big part of that process was Rune willing his dream of becoming a professional tennis player into reality. At a young age, he also played football, but there was something special about controlling his own destiny on the tennis court. There were nice parts to being on a team, but on the football pitch, he could do everything right and the team could still lose.

Rune’s sister Alma, who is four years his elder, played tennis. So who better to compete with than a sibling?

“Alma was the one who was the best at tennis,” Aneke recalled. “But because he wanted to be better, every weekend in the morning he went to her room and he was like, ‘Wake up Alma. We have to go down and play tennis.’”

Alma explained that “in Denmark, there is not a rich culture of elite tennis”. They were not whisked away to a world-class academy with the best juniors in the world. Some of their most memorable moments as kids were playing against one another.

“When it was close, she was cheating a little bit, I was maybe cheating a bit, because we were so competitive,” Rune said, joking about their parents needing to play referee. “We all wanted to win. And it was good times, because she’s four years older than me, so she was naturally better because she started earlier and played more. So it was very good for me, because I had to keep the level high to be able to play with her.”

On and off the court, it quickly became apparent that a competitive fire burned within Rune. Throughout his childhood, the Dane kept a poster of the world’s best player — usually Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal — on his bedroom wall. He would dress like the player and try to imitate them on court, too.

A young Rune, dressed like then-World No. 2 Nadal, reached the final of his first tournament as a junior, but lost with the title on the line.

“He went bananas because he wanted to win. And we tried to calm him down and say, ‘It’s okay and go take your [runner-up] trophy.’ He didn’t want to accept the trophy,” Aneke said. “So we had to take it home in the back. When he came to his room he said, ‘Take down Rafa.’ At that time, Rafa was No. 2 and Roger was No. 1. And he said, ‘Put up, Roger.’”

Suddenly Rune was wearing a polo and using a Wilson racquet to try to be like Federer. The Rune Family still has a two-metre-tall carbon cutout of the Swiss legend in their basement.

“He said, ‘I never want to be No. 2,’” Aneke recalled. “It’s the worst.”

Rune was competitive off the court, too. Whether it was playing cards or otherwise, the Dane always wanted to win.

“I remember when they played chess, then all of a sudden I heard like,” Aneke said, making a banging noise. “If Holger was behind he was messing up and you could hear Alma like, ‘Oh no, Holger come on!’”

According to Alma, Rune was “quite lazy” as a kid when it came to things like fitness training. Holger “was a bit chubby” and loved cake. He still does, but as he grew older the Dane worked hard at his craft under the tutelage of Lars Christensen, who remains a critical member of Rune’s team today.

“The big work started when he was like 12, 13 years old and he was pretty lazy at that time and he didn’t really want to move so much,” Christensen said. “If he wanted to compete with the best and keep pursuing his dreams he had to be a better mover. I would go every day, I would have drills set up for him and he hated it and he hated me when I was doing it. But I just kept going day after day after day after day. [He had to] keep repeating the right things, keep repeating the right routines when you’re going to match days, having the right routines, having the right warm-up routines.”

“When you see now, I thank him for that,” Rune said, cracking a laugh.

The Dane quickly became one of the most promising juniors in the world. In 2019 he won the Roland Garros boys’ singles title and later that year became junior World No. 1.

In March 2021 as a 17-year-old ranked outside the world’s Top 400, Rune made his ATP Tour debut in Buenos Aires. Less than two years later, he triumphed at Paris-Bercy and cracked the Top 10 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings for the first time.

Rune has quickly adapted to competing on the world’s biggest stages, tallying an 11-9 record against Top 10 opponents. He just turned 20 on 29 April, but his efforts have not shown his age.

“I think he’s so cool in tough situations. He’s so brave. He’s not really scared, even though he wants to do everything perfect,” Alma said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, you’re only 19. And you’re playing against the best players in the world and you’re staying so calm’. [He] doesn’t really fear anything. I think he’s really fearless and that makes me really proud.”

Aneke travels throughout the season with Holger, who remains in constant contact with the rest of his family. As intense as Rune could be on court, he is low key off it and is plenty content spending his down time chatting with family. He often FaceTimes with his sister.

“I would say he’s a very happy and genuine guy. He’s authentic, too. Like Holger is Holger. He doesn’t really try to be something he’s not,” Alma said. “And on the other side, he’s not scared to show his character and show who he is.”

At his roots, Rune is a competitor. Whether it’s playing cards and chess with his sister or battling against the best players in the world on court, the Dane wants to win.

When ATPTour.com spoke to Rune before his Grand Slam main draw debut at the 2021 US Open aged 18, the Dane showed no fear of his first-round opponent, Djokovic, who at Flushing Meadows was trying to complete the Grand Slam. He said his goal was to win the tournament.

“Maybe 90 per cent of people in the world would probably say that’s unrealistic right now,” Rune said at the time. “But I have to believe in myself.”

The teen won a set in the match and acquitted himself well before falling in four sets to the eventual finalist. Just more than one year later, it was Rune celebrating after upsetting Djokovic in Bercy.

Rune has already made an impact on the ATP Tour and he is just getting started. Already an ATP Masters 1000 champion and Top 10 star, will he win a major? Will the 20-year-old eventually climb to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings?

Those are questions still to be answered. But it is safe to say the world of tennis will get Rune’s best effort to make his dreams come true.

“I would like to say that I’ve given 100 per cent fight in every match I go into and given the best of myself every time, trying to play the best tennis I can and be as good as possible,” Rune said. “I want to end my career and say, ‘I didn’t want to do more, and I did all I could. No regrets.’”

Alma added: “He has a Plan A and a goal and it’s all or nothing. He just goes completely for it. It’s not like he needs to come with excuses if he doesn’t win or doesn’t succeed. And he doesn’t. He never really had a Plan B, so it’s this or nothing.”

Other news
Tsitsipas: Why overcoming Sinner ‘obstacle’ was key to Monte-Carlo progress

Greek reflects on triumph

Read more
Ruud: ‘I have taken steps in the right direction’

Norwegian lost to Tsitsipas in Sunday’s Monte-Carlo final.

Read more
Tsitsipas rules again! Greek soars to third Monte-Carlo title

Greek wins third title in the Principality.

Read more