Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Holger Rune: From ‘Baby Brained’ Junior to Roger Federer’s Practice Partner

Posted on 22 January 2021 by Sam Jacot

There is a sensational young talent emerging in men’s tennis. A player that will become familiar with fans across the globe in the coming years. His name, Holger Rune.

As one of just two 17-year-olds inside the world’s top 500 (with Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz the other) Rune’s rise has forced many to take notice.

From winning the Junior French Open title in June 2019 to becoming world number one at youth level four months later, the young Dane had conquered the junior tour.

In October 2019 his focus moved towards making the leap to senior level and it has been a fruitful decision so far with Rune enjoying a remarkable 2020, rising from outside the world’s top 1000 at the start of the year to 477 today.

A large part of this ascent came after the spring lockdown, with Rune winning Future titles in Switzerland, Spain and Turkey in the autumn of 2020 to further raise his stock in the game.

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Training and hard work are crucial ingredients behind victories for any athlete and it is no different for Rune.

His strong results have followed practice sessions with those at the top of the tour including Roger Federer, which Rune feels was an invaluable experience.

Rune said: “Federer is so relaxed in practice. He is chilled out and having fun but then in matches he is so serious so it is amazing how he can turn it on and off like that. His footwork is in a different world and it is aspiring to see in person.”

“The young guys are much more intense in practice and train how they play whereas the older guys play matches in a different way.”

Rune believes the change in mentality that he has witnessed between junior and senior players is one of the major differences between the tours.

“On the men’s circuit the players are much more disciplined in their game, they don’t take so many stupid choices on the court,” said Rune.

“A lot of juniors are very talented, but they have baby brains, in the sense they have a hard time controlling themselves.”

Despite adjusting to life in the men’s game well the Dane remembers his junior period fondly, yet stresses he was always eager to make the jump to the main tour as quickly as possible.

Rune remarked: “It felt amazing winning the French Open in 2019. It was the ultimate goal of mine in the junior tour to claim a junior Grand Slam title and I did that.

“Then, when I became junior world number one later that year, it felt like time to move to the next level. It felt like the right time because I wanted to challenge myself against new players.”

New Year, New Goals for Rune

While results have been impressive, focus remains on how to improve further.

Finding more consistency in his game, working hard and keeping level-headed are three areas Rune is working on to continue his strong run into the 2021 season.

Rune said: “The key is to keep playing the same. I think I have a very high level in me, and my coach says that, but I could not last for that long and I needed to keep it going for two or three sets and keep playing the same.

“It is about always trying and putting in full effort then if you do this, matched with your level, you are probably going to end up doing well.

“I try to learn from the matches, but I do not get down about defeats. I just try to learn from them and move on, it is not the worst thing that can happen.”

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At such a young age, Rune speaks with impressive maturity which helps explain his positive recent results.

It is a mindset that helped him defeat world number 28 Benoit Paire 7-5, 3-6, 7-5 in November in a victory which further justifies the hype that surrounds the teenager.

“It was an unreal experience. He is such a talented player, so it was really fun to play,” said Rune.

“It gave me a lot of confidence. I kind of thought I had that level in me as I have been practicing with a lot of guys who are ranked highly and playing practice sets.

“The key for me was keeping a good level over a long amount of time, with great length on shots and going for it.”

With Rune’s experience therefore growing, the 17-year-old has high aims for 2021.

“Firstly, I want to be able to play all the challengers [a ranking of around 250 would be required],” said Rune.

“The long-term goal for October with my coach is to get into the top 100 and I am feeling pretty good. If I go higher than 100 it would not surprise me because I am working well, and my mindset is strong, but it is a long way away currently.”

The confidence Rune has in his abilities at such a young age is undoubtedly impressive yet as he is well aware, both on and off the court, actions speak louder than words.