Best Of 2023

Rivalries Of 2023: Djokovic vs. Rune

Generational battle yielded three dramatic three-setters
December 08, 2023
Novak Djokovic and Holger Rune contested three Lexus ATP Head2Head matchups in 2023.
Novak Djokovic and Holger Rune contested three Lexus ATP Head2Head matchups in 2023. By ATP Staff

After Holger Rune closed his 2022 ATP Tour season by beating Novak Djokovic in the Rolex Paris Masters final, the pair squared off again three times this year. Each match went the distance, all three-setters on some of the game's biggest stages — in Rome, Paris (again) and at the Nitto ATP Finals looks back at their memorable matchups for 2023.

Rome QFs, Rune d. Djokovic 6-2, 4-6, 6-2
Rune earned his second straight win against the Serbian and, for the moment, moved ahead 2-1 in their Lexus ATP Head2Head rivalry with a focussed effort in rainy Rome. Djokovic clinched the second set after the players returned from a rain delay, but Rune composed himself to wrestle away the match at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.

Rune made Djokovic work to close out the middle set from 5-2, but Rune had little trouble in closing out the victory after building a 4-0 lead in the decider — his third-set surge aided by a vexing combination of power and touch, including several well-timed drop shots.

"It's really a big win for me,” said Rune, who converted on five of 10 break chances and hit 26 winners to Djokovic's 22. “Obviously I did it last year in Paris as well, but every match is a huge challenge for me when I play against Novak. He's one of the greatest that's ever played the game... I'm super proud of myself and I enjoyed every moment out there."

Paris QFs, Djokovic d. Rune 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-4
In a hotly anticipated rematch of their 2022 Rolex Paris Masters final, Djokovic earned double revenge by reversing both that result and the outcome in Rome.

While the outcome in their previous Paris-Bercy meeting was in doubt until the very last ball, Djokovic was determined to secure a more straightforward result this time around. He nearly finished the job in straight sets, but Rune saved a match point at 4-5 in the second and found a dangerous rhythm from the ground to power through the end of the set.

But Djokovic quickly regrouped to notch an early break in set three, and he offered Rune little hope of a comeback by making just one unforced error in the decider.

"It was quite a similar match to last year's final, it was anybody's game in every set," said Djokovic, who would go on to win his record-extending seventh Paris-Bercy crown and 40th ATP Masters 1000 title. "Credit to him for staying mentally tough and playing solid. We have similar games: move well, defend well and we're all-round players."

Nitto ATP Finals RR, Djokovic d. Rune 7-6(4), 6-7(1), 6-3
Playing for the second time in 10 days, Djokovic and Rune again battled for three sets to open their campaigns in Turin. In his Nitto ATP Finals debut, Rune again gave Djokovic all he could handle.

Extended all-court exchanges were the norm despite fast conditions at the Pala Alpitour, such were the defensive skills on display from both competitors. After two heart-pounding sets, both in terms of physical exertion and drama, Djokovic pulled away in the decider — but not before Rune recovered an early break to stress the Serbian once more.

“It took everything," said Djokovic, who clinched ATP Year-End No. 1 presented by Pepperstone honours for a record-extending eighth time with the win. "I saw in the first game, when he fired shots from the baseline in the first three or four points, I knew that it was going to be a tough life for me. If I wanted to win this match, I was going to have to work really hard… He was feeling the ball well, he was sharp. Very aggressive, every short ball he was coming in and he served terrific."

In the final match of round-robin play, Rune nearly advanced to the semi-finals at the expense of Djokovic, but the Dane was turned back in three sets by home favourite Jannik Sinner. Djokovic would go on to defeat Sinner in the final to win his seventh Nitto ATP Finals crown, breaking a tie with Roger Federer.

Read all stories in our Best Of 2023 review.

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