The Fire Within Holger Rune
Holger Rune has big dreams in tennis. The #NextGenATP Danish star has no problem saying he believes he can compete with everyone on the ATP Tour and that one day, he wants to be World No. 1.
According to Holger’s mother, Aneke Rune, he is not just saying that for the sake of it.
“As Holger says, a lot of guys say I want to be No. 1, but you can see they don’t mean it. He says you can see it in their eyes. For Holger it’s important as well [that] his coach and people involved really want it,” Aneke said. “He feels it immediately if it’s just fake. If some coaches tried to be interested when he was younger, he was like, ‘But he doesn’t mean it’.
“He’s very serious, and still now when he says he wants to improve and wants to do these things, this is what he really means. It’s not like [he is just saying] ‘I want to be a rockstar’. He wants it.”
And Rune has wanted it since he was a young boy. Before he began playing tennis, Holger would go along with his sister, Alma, to her tournaments. He would pull a chair up to the fence to take a close look at the action.
“All the other little sisters and brothers would be saying, ‘Can we go home soon?’” Aneke recalled. “I could pay all my attention to Alma and when one match was finished he took his chair and moved it over to find another match to watch.
“He was hooked before he started himself. He wanted to start, but he wasn’t allowed to until he was six. So when he did start, he was very motivated.”
Rune’s competitive spirit did not take long to come to the forefront. Early on, Holger played foam ball tournaments, in which he would place second.
“He was so angry he didn’t want to get the trophy. He was crying in a match because he saw he couldn’t win. I said, 'You can’t cry!’” Aneke recalled. “He wanted so much to win and we had to tell him okay skip that, because you’re not going to win if your eyes are all wet, you can’t see the ball.”
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
But Rune is more than just a competitor. In a way, he is obsessed with the sport. When ATPTour.com asked the Dane last year to describe a perfect day without tennis, he asked if he could watch tennis.
“Sometimes he’s forced to mention some other sports and he says basketball, baseball, football, whatever,” Aneke said. “But honestly, it’s not a real passion.”
Rune is all tennis, all the time. Ask him about a specific shot in a specific match from one of your favourite players, and he likely can give you the context. According to his mother, it’s a fitting sport for his personality.
When Holger was younger, he was into skateboarding and would spend plenty of time on YouTube learning tricks, only to go out and practise them. He was into the details. Tennis has an abundance of those.
“He can spend hours. It’s not just a movie for him. It’s the footwork, he can tell you the backhand down the line [Stan] Wawrinka hit in that match in that year. You can ask him anything and he can answer, he’s just so much into details,” Aneke said. “That’s why I’m happy [he is in] tennis. In tennis there are so many details. It’s not like skateboarding, where he put everything on a skateboard and was like, 'Okay, next project'. In tennis you never get good enough.”
Aneke and Rune’s coach, Lars Christensen, readily admit that Holger is an emotional teen. With the 18-year-old’s desire to improve and be the best comes inevitable moments of disappointment. Nobody’s run to the top is flawless, and Rune hates losing.
“We were actually not sure if we were going to the U.S. [before last US Open]. In many matches, he acted a little too childish and I told Holger it’s a long way to go, it’s expensive,” Aneke said. “If we go, you’ll have to improve in these areas.”
Photo Credit: Peter Staples/ATP Tour
The team made a deal that Rune would play an ATP Challenger Tour event in San Marino to try to get back on track mentally, which he did by lifting the trophy. He also triumphed in Verona, convincing his team he was ready for New York. In his first attempt to qualify for a major, Rune was successful with the loss of just one set.
In the first round of the main draw, Rune took a set from World No. 1 Novak Djokovic inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. In the moment, Aneke did not realise the magnitude of his efforts. It took until she watched highlights on television.
“I was like s***, this is huge. But at the time, it was just progress, it was just a match,” Aneke said. “Afterwards when you are watching, you get goosebumps, it’s like ‘Whoa’. It was amazing. Fifteen thousand people cheering for my son, I was like, ‘I’m going to cry’.”
The year got even better for Rune when he qualified for the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan. After starting 2021 at No. 473 in the ATP Rankings, he finished No. 103. Now at a career-high World No. 102, Rune is set to make his Australian Open debut against South Korean Soonwoo Kwon.
It is still early in Rune’s journey, and all indications point towards the teen continuing his climb. But for Aneke, as supportive as she is of her son’s ambitions, there is something even more important.
“If you ask any parent, the most important thing is that your children are happy. For me also when he practises, when he is playing matches, I need to see that he is enjoying what he’s doing. I need to see his eyes, I need to see his passion, I need to see his happiness,” Aneke said. “If I can see he’s happy, I feel like I’m a success as a mother. For me, the most important thing is happiness.”