Match Report

Rune Downs Defending Champ Djokovic In Rome

20-year-old will face Ruud or Cerundolo in his third ATP Masters 1000 semi-final
May 17, 2023
AFP/Getty Images
Holger Rune improves to 2-1 in his ATP Head2Head series with Novak Djokovic. By ATP Staff

Holger Rune kept his focus in rainy Rome Wednesday to overcome six-time champion Novak Djokovic in a thrilling quarter-final at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.

The 20-year-old Dane prevailed 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 to seal back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 wins against the World No. 1. Although Djokovic clinched the second set immediately after rain had forced the players off the court for just over an hour, Rune recomposed himself to complete a two-hour, 19-minute triumph at the Foro Italico.

"It's really a big win for me,” said Rune in his on-court interview. “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 knew I had to be at my best and I said it yesterday, and I was today. I'm super proud of myself and I enjoyed every moment out there."

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Rune is now 17-4 across his past six ATP Masters 1000 events (including Rome). That tally includes his run to a maiden title at that level at last year’s Rolex Paris Masters, where he also beat Djokovic in three sets to lift the trophy. The Dane now leads the 93-time tour-level titlist 2-1 in their ATP Head2Head series.

"I stay humble of course. I have a lot to achieve," said the Dane. "I think you should always be humble. I think I am, I hope so and I hope people see me this way. I'm a huge fighter on the court and I leave everything when I play my matches. I'm super proud I was able to get the victory today. I had to fight hard and play my best tennis.

"Huge credit to Novak, I'm a big fan of his. He's a huge inspiration and I wish him all the best."

The Dane had raced to the opening set against the defending champion and top seed Djokovic, who appeared physically under par and was treated by the physio at 2-1 in the second set. In typically resilient fashion, the Serbian raised his level and broke for the first time in the match en route to a 5-2 lead.

Although Rune pegged the 35-year-old back by reclaiming the break, the World No. 7 was under pressure serving to stay in the second set when the weather forced play to be suspended at 6-2, 4-5, 0/30. Upon resumption, Djokovic immediately claimed the two points he needed to level proceedings and force a third set.

The Serbian was powerless to stop Rome debutant Rune in the decider, however, as the Dane’s combination of power from the baseline and savvy drop shots to draw Djokovic forward allowed him to dictate rallies. He opened a 4-0 lead in the third set that proved unassailable to book a semi-final clash against Casper Ruud or Francisco Cerundolo in the Italian capital.

Rune’s return game was a constant thorn in Djokovic’s side. The Dane converted five of the 10 break points he earned and finished the match with 26 winners to his opponent’s 22. His ability to hit through the damp clay allowed him to regain control of the match after Djokovic had roused the Rome crowd with his charge in the second set.

"I know at the end, when Novak goes into this mode, nothing can come at him and he plays really free and aggressive,” said Rune. “When you want to close the match, it's really difficult. He puts a lot of pressure on you, but I managed to hit some good shots and stay brave. That was the most important.

“I think I was a little less brave in the second set but after the rain delay, I managed to come out and be brave even though I lost the set. I just told myself, 'Okay, it's all right, I just have to keep going.'"

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