Rune Rides Tie-Break Tension For Opening Sofia Win

#NextGenATP Dane is currently fourth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan

There was little to separate Holger Rune and Tim van Rijthoven in a hard-hitting first-round clash at the Sofia Open on Tuesday afternoon.

Yet Rune’s ability to raise his level in a pair of tie-breaks ultimately proved decisive in Bulgaria, where the #NextGenATP Dane prevailed 7-6(2), 7-6(6) to ensure his maiden appearance at the ATP 250 indoor hard-court event was a successful one.

“It feels very good,” said Rune, who reached his career-high of No. 26 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in August. “I had just a couple of days of practice here, but I’m really enjoying my time. It’s a tough first round, you never know who can play amazing [and he’s had] some great results, so I’m super happy to get through.”

Despite firing only 18 winners to Van Rijthoven’s 27, Rune showed his mettle under pressure at key moments in the pair’s maiden ATP Head2Head meeting, most significantly when he saved a set point at 5/6 in the second-set tie-break.

“[I didn’t] want to go to three sets,” said Rune, who will meet Metz champion Lorenzo Sonego or Bernabe Zapata Miralles in the next round. “I had the break and led 5/2 in the [second-set] tie-break. If it [had happened], I was going to fight for sure and try to take it in three, but I’m very happy to finish in two.”

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The 19-year-old Rune enjoyed a stellar first half of 2022, lifting his first ATP Tour title in Munich and reaching his maiden Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland Garros. Despite struggling to back up those results across the grass and North American hard-court seasons, the Dane is currently fourth in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Milan as he seeks to qualify for November’s Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals for the second straight year.

“I’m really working hard every day and trying to improve any small things I can,” said Rune. “I think today I stayed very focused all the time. I lost my focus one time on my serve, when maybe I shouldn’t have been broken, but other than that I’m happy with my first match. The first match is always a bit difficult.”

Eighth seed Oscar Otte joined Rune in the second round in Sofia after he cruised to a 6-3, 6-2 win against Swedish qualifier Dragos Nicolae Madaras. The German converted four from 10 break point chances he had in a 60-minute win to set a second-round meeting with Kamil Majchrzak.

There was an upset when Australian Aleksandar Vukic eliminated former Top 10 player Fabio Fognini 7-6(11), 7-5. Fognini saved eight of the 11 break points he faced, but was unable to overcome the 10 double faults he hit.

Vukic, a 26-year-old who played for the University of Illinois, will next face another former Top 10 player in Fernando Verdasco or Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

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