Photograph: Getty Images
The French Open 2022. This is the clay-court event that is circled on every ATP touring pro's calendar. It is fast approaching and as the Munich 250 event got underway this wide open clay court season was full of even more surprises.
By this stage of the clay-court season, there are certain patterns that begin to emerge. Players in the past have leapt to the front of the pack with dominance across all events.
We have seen the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Dominic Thiem and even Alexander Zverev stamp their authority on the season and create an aura of invincibility. So far in 2022 it hasn’t happened. Djokovic is well short of Tour match practice, Nadal has been fighting injury, Zverev seems to be constantly battling with himself, fans and off-court drama that follows him everywhere and we know Thiem looks a shadow of himself and may not reach the heights he has previously. So as Munich arrived on the calendar anything was possible.
The key players who put their names up in Munich were of the calibre of Zverev, Casper Ruud, Reilly Opelka and the power focused Nikoloz Basilashvili. These were the main guys but just below that were the dangerous floaters looking to stake their claim.
The Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic is more and more impressive week by week. He is destined for the top 20. Cristian Garin, another clay-court specialist can go on runs that make even the best players in the world nervous and the Danish firebrand Holger Rune is one that there is excitement about.
As play got underway the first casualty was that man Garin. It was his fellow countryman Alejandro Tabilo who put him to the sword 6-3, 6-4. Tabilo is as talented as they come and Chile have unearthed another real player.
The other big winner in round one was Rune. 7-6(4), 6-3 over the Czech Jiri Lehecka. Two rising stars in the top 100 but it was Rune’s power that shined the brightest. Too big off the ground for the Czech to handle and it set up a round two clash with Zverev.
It was round two where things got more than interesting. After a first-round bye, it was the serve bot Opelka who was the first to go when Oscar Otte of Germany impressed in front of home fans.
Otte won 32/35 first serve points at a 91% success rate and he rode this all the way to the finish line 7-6(4), 6-2. There were further wins for Tabilo, Kecmanovic and Basilashvili and when Casper Rudd survived in three sets over Alex Molcan it seemed order was restored.
But in stepped Holger Rune. Matched up with the German star Zverev what took place in a little over 1 hour and 30 minutes was startling. In a battle that was quite even between the lines once baseline rallies were in play it was the way that Rune was the better man during the big-time pressure moments and points. Rune defended his second serve better then the German superstar winning 53% to Zverev’s 42% and the break point conversions were all Runes also. 4/11 on the conversions to 1/7 for Zverev led to a 6-3 6-2 boil over and the biggest win of his career.
When Rune backed up his upset over Zverev with a 6-0, 6-2 domination over the Finn Ruusuvuori to make the semi-finals combined with the exit of favourite Casper Ruud, a maiden title was shaping up for the youngster. Kecmanovic advanced over Basilashvili and things were wide open for all that was left for the taking.
The surprising semi-finalists had Rune v Otte while the second semi had Kecmanovic v Botic van de Zandschlup.
It was an exciting time for the German Oscar Otte. An ATP 250 semi-final in front of his home fans but before he knew it he ran into a buzz saw. Otte did extremely well to keep the score close as his younger opponent created more chances.
The German veteran used the crowd for energy but it was Rune again who reigned supreme with a 6-4, 6-4 victory, again displaying second serve superiority as well as coming out on top in break point saves and conversions. The youngster was through.
Kecmanovic is having his best European summer on tour. He started favourite in semi-final No. 2 against the van de Zandschlup and when he flew through the first set 6-2 it looked like the Serbian was guaranteed a finals spot. But the Dutchman showed great resilience keeping things close and when he won the second set tie break (7-4) things were square.
Kecmanovic could not believe he was in a third and as the set progressed the match time was one of the longest of the tournament. Both players had opportunities but it was the Dutchman that was left standing after two hours and 52 minutes.
Both players were in their maiden ATP Tour final so it was all on the line. As the match was progressing and with Rune serving at 40-15 and trailing 3-,4 it was van de Zandschulp who was unable to continue the match due to an aching chest and some breathing difficulties.
A shocked crowd were left to rue what might have been on Munich finals day but it was the young Dane Rune who was standing to lift the trophy.
So as the tour moves onto the very biggest ATP clay events in Madrid, Rome and then on to Paris do not underestimate what this week meant for the youngster Rune.
Just like that other youngster Sebastian Baez was winning his first title in Estoril it was Rune who took his opportunity when it mattered most. He now moves into the top 50 in the world and with a hunger and ability to play the high-pressure points on his terms, the sky is the limit.
While it has been virtually impossible to crack the ‘Big 3’ in Nadal, Djokovic and Roger Federer at the biggest events, maybe it is the youngest guys now on tour you should pay attention to.
Alcaraz has already arrived and the world knows it. But the two ATP Tour 250 champions in Estoril and Munich are coming also.
Baez and Rune want a piece of the action and a piece of the limelight. Both those guys certainly earnt it this very week.