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Refocused Rune Steadies For Nitto ATP Finals Debut

Dane enters Turin under guidance of new coach Boris Becker
November 09, 2023
Holger Rune completed a successful title defence in Munich this season.
Holger Rune completed a successful title defence in Munich this season. By Arthur Kapetanakis

Holger Rune's 2023 season has taken the shape of a three-act play. A smooth and successful start was followed by a challenging middle period, before the Dane began to put things right late in the year. Now it all sets up for the dramatic climax at the Nitto ATP Finals.

After making the trip to Turin as an alternate last season, following his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title at the Rolex Paris Masters, Rune was well on course to qualify for his debut at the season finale following consecutive quarter-final runs at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Before that, the 20-year-old reached his second Masters 1000 final in Monte-Carlo and then completed a successful title defence in Munich the very next week.

"If I continued the way that I did the first six months, I would be in easily," Rune said of his progress in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin. Instead, he struggled after Wimbledon, posting a 1-5 record from August to mid-October. That kept the Dane battling to make the Nitto ATP Finals right up until his return to Paris-Bercy as the defending champion.

"It's OK. It's a good fight," Rune said of his precarious position entering the year's final ATP Masters 1000. "It's the last push of the season. I'm really ready to give all."

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Rune attributed some of his mid-season struggles to instability on his team. In October, he announced that he hired Boris Becker as his coach. Since then, he has rediscovered his form to reach the Basel semi-finals and the Paris quarters — results that locked in his Turin place.

"I had a lot of difficulties in my team," Rune said before beginning his Paris title defence. " I think the more peace and quietness there is around a tennis player or an athlete, the better they can perform. And the less, the more tough it is to keep the focus. So it was definitely tough for me to be the best version of myself. And that's not good for any athlete."

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Rune also mentioned some adjustments and "small changes" to his game since he started his work with Becker, but it may be his newfound clarity that is the biggest factor in his recent improvement. The Dane can also enter the bright lights of Turin with a sense of calm, having experienced the spotlight of the Nitto ATP Finals as a non-playing alternate last season.

It was an opportunity he earned by winning two titles and reaching two additional finals in his final four events. So what did he take from his time in Turin?

"Definitely a lot of eagerness to be able to be there this year," he said. "Obviously last year it would have been great to make it [as a direct qualifier], but I didn't expect to make it at all. Because before the last three tournaments, I was not even near. So it was a big push that I made. And then all of a sudden, it was then possible to make it. But during [Paris-Bercy], I also didn't think about it because I played Top 10 guys every match. So I was expecting to lose every match.

"So it just kind of happened and I'm trying to do the same [this year], don't try or anything to seek the Finals, but just do everything I can on the court. And then at the end, I hope to make it."

Now that Rune is safely into the Nitto ATP Finals field for the first time, he is preparing for a challenge that will be even tougher than the one he overcame last year in Paris. As the eighth-place finisher in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin, he will be again looking up at each of his opponents in Turin's high-pressure environment.

"It's definitely a tough field out there," he said of the top-tier opponents on the ATP Tour, may of whom he will face at the season finale. "You have to be good. You cannot just be at your level. You need to improve every day to be able to just stay there, and if you want to go even more up, you have to do big things in your game, in your physicality and everything. So it's a constant process."

Fortunately for Rune, he is able to find the joy in the unending work.

"It's more and more fun," he said. "Every day I play, the more fun it gets."

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