French Open: More play, less drama keeps Holger Rune happy

ByRutvick Mehta, Mumbai
Jun 07, 2023 08:45 PM IST

The rising Danish tennis star has shown this season how reining in emotions can let his game flow.

“I mean, obviously, there was a lot of drama last year,” Holger Rune smiled, adding, “Hopefully we can make less drama this year.”

Holger Rune celebrates his victory over Francisco Cerundolo during their men's singles match (AFP) PREMIUM
Holger Rune celebrates his victory over Francisco Cerundolo during their men's singles match (AFP)

The Dane and drama have seldom been too far. Wind back to Monday, when the 20-year-old returned a ball on double bounce in the third set against Francisco Cerundolo and did not stop, costing the Argentine the point as the umpire failed to see it. Drawing criticism from some former players for unsportsmanlike conduct, Rune, feeling sorry and laying the onus on the umpire, brushed it off with a “this is sports” rationale.

Or wind back to last year’s French Open quarter-final, when the teenager stood arguing with the umpire on a line call off a winner on match point from Casper Ruud and then walked up for a cold handshake minus eye contact while Ruud shook his head. That match had the mercurial Rune flying into a temper during and after the four-set emotional rollercoaster, accusing the unassuming Norwegian of shouting at his face in the locker room, a charge that brought both families into it as well.

The Scandinavians’ showdown will play out again on the same court, same stage, same time in Wednesday’s night session at Roland Garros. The ironic difference: Rune hoping for less drama.

The world No. 6 has, of late, allowed his tennis to do more of the talking, and his mind the maturing. Look no further than last month’s Rome Masters semi-final for proof. In their first meeting after the controversial night in Paris, Rune managed to pull off his first win in five meetings with Ruud and a warm smiling exchange at the net.

Quite unlike a fellow 20-year-old world No. 1, Rune's personality, on-court antics and behaviour can divide the opinion of fans, former players and colleagues alike. He has, however, also built on his promise-laden reputation with each passing round of this French Open, and with each passing tournament over the last year.

His rise — from being ranked outside the top 400 in March 2021, Rune broke into the top 10 in less than two years — has been as steep and swift as Carlos Alcaraz’s, though without the multiple big titles and Grand Slam to show.

The indoor Paris ATP 1000 trophy last November, beating Novak Djokovic in the final after getting past four top 10 players, gave Rune his first Masters title. His big appetite against top 10 rivals craved more. He beat Djokovic again in last month's Rome quarterfinals and then Ruud before losing to Daniil Medvedev in the final. That was his second Masters final after Monte Carlo on clay this season, one in which he won the ATP 250 Munich title in April.

Triumphs aside, the ability to learn from defeats has also shown. Rune exited in the fourth round of the Australian Open after being 5-2 up in the fifth set and 5-0 up in the match tiebreaker against Andrey Rublev. That match crossed Rune’s mind while facing another match tiebreaker with Cerundolo on Monday, only he came out a 10-7 winner in his first five-set encounter this time.

“I definitely learnt from Australia earlier this year,” Rune said. “I told myself in the beginning of the match tiebreaker just to enjoy the moment, try to play my tennis and at least leave the court with a smile. Because if you think too much about winning and losing, you start to get tired. And it hurts. I try to be positive and see the good things.”

Coached and guided by Patrick Mouratoglou, who worked with Serena Williams and Simona Halep, Rune recently brought in Bjarne Slot Christiansen into his team as mental coach. Christiansen, a former soldier from the Danish special forces, “is very experienced and successful in handling the mental aspects in elite sport,” Rune wrote on social media in announcing the addition.

The meltdowns and drop in concentration levels still do surface, but Rune is admittedly a bit more balanced in the mind now than before. The high stakes and baggage-filled quarter-final rematch with Ruud will be another test of that.

“I respect him. There’s no problem. We good,” Rune said of world No. 4 Ruud on Monday. “So, it should be a match with no problems, hopefully. And hopefully I can turn it around and make it different this year.”

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