Rune On Playing Djokovic: 'This Is Where I Want To Be'
Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune was scrolling Instagram on Friday evening after qualifying for the US Open when he got a text from a friend. “You’re playing Novak in the first round,” it read.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, yeah,’” Rune told ATPTour.com. “Sometimes they just say things because they knew he was playing a qualifier.”
But then Rune, a #NextGenATP star from Denmark, checked the draw and learned it was true. The 18-year-old will play World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the first round of his first major main draw.
“At the beginning my heart was like, ‘Whoa’. It was kind of crazy,” Rune said. “He’s an incredible player, he’s a legend, so it’s going to be fun for me. I believe I have the level to play with everyone on Tour, so it’s going to be a really interesting match for me.”
It is a dream position for Rune, who began his tennis journey 12 years ago at the age of six. His sister, Alma, had begun playing the sport and Holger decided to give it a shot.
“I came to try it and I thought it was a brilliant sport,” Rune said. “Since then, I can’t say I was 100 per cent in tennis, because I went to school as well, but I have had so much passion for tennis my whole life and it just continues. It’s great.”
Photo Credit: Pete Staples/USTA
The #NextGenATP star loves spending time with his family, but outside of that all of Rune’s focus is on tennis. When asked what his perfect day would look like without the sport, he said, “I’d like to watch some tennis".
Nearly two years ago, aged 16, Rune ascended to the top spot in the world junior rankings, and he has wasted little time making his mark on the professional circuit. Last week, the Dane became the fourth teen since 2010 to win back-to-back ATP Challenger Tour titles, joining Nick Kyrgios, Taylor Fritz and Carlos Alcaraz.
This time last year, Rune was No. 732 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Now he is World No. 145 and the first Danish man to compete in the US Open main draw since Kristian Pless in 2006.
Rune has not played a Top 10 opponent, but he will enter the match comfortable with Djokovic across the net. In March, Rune knew that Djokovic was not competing in Miami, and he needed someone to practise with on clay. So when the Dane saw a video of the Serbian sweeping a clay court, he reached out to the World No. 1 on Instagram and they arranged two practice sessions at the Monte-Carlo Country Club.
“He was so kind and we got the practice organised and had two very good practices with each other at a very good level,” Rune said. “It was great, he’s a great guy.”
The teen made two Instagram posts at the time that clearly showed how much he enjoyed the experience of training with Djokovic. But he also got to see up close how tough of a player the 34-year-old is.
“I think his consistency is incredible, how he just keeps hitting the ball in the same spot in a varied level of pace,” Rune said. “That was probably the most impressive thing.”
The US Open singles main draw came out on Thursday, before Rune had earned his spot. The 18-year-old saw that Djokovic drew a qualifier, but he focused on qualifying instead of letting his mind wander to the possibility of playing the top seed.
“Now that it’s been a [couple] days, I’m actually happy,” Rune said. “This is where I want to be, this is my dream, this is what I want to do the rest of my life.”
However tough it will be, Rune is aware that he is the first player who can stop Djokovic’s pursuit of the Grand Slam. The World No. 1 can become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four majors in one season.
“He has a lot to play for in this tournament,” Rune said. “He can win four Grand Slams in one year, so there’s obviously pressure on him. But of course he knows that and he knows how to deal with it. Of course he has a lot to win.”
The Dane knows that these are all new experiences for him, and that Djokovic is a 20-time major champion. But he will not walk onto the court inside Arthur Ashe Stadium under the lights on Tuesday evening defeated before the match begins.
“I have a lot of belief in myself even though I’m up against the World No. 1. A lot of players would just say go out there, have fun, get the experience and enjoy the moment,” Rune said. “Of course I’m going to do that as well, but my goal is not just to play here. My goal is to win this tournament, even many times.
“Maybe 90 per cent of people in the world would probably say that’s unrealistic right now, but I have to believe in myself. I believe in my game, me and my coach and my mom are improving my game every day, my mentality and everything. I’m really working hard for this.”
If there’s one thing Rune wants fans watching him for the first time to take away from the match, it is not a technical skill.
“I’m a real fighter on the court. I will try to do as best as possible, I will fight for each point and try to be in there for as long as possible and play with him,” Rune said. “Of course he’s a huge favourite for the match. He’s World No. 1 and I’m not even Top 100 yet, but it’s going to be fun and I just want to go out there and really do my best.”