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HOLGER RUNE - WILL THE GREAT DANE GRADUATE PUPPY SCHOOL?


Watching on from the court-side seats of court 12 on the opening day of this year’s Australian Open, it was readily apparent why the tennis world was all hype for Holger Vitus Nodskov Rune, a then 18-year old from Denmark.


Arriving at Melbourne Park freshly minted in the top 100 in the world, the Dane played with power, intensity and emotion. It was his blessing and his curse.


Having skipped to a two-set lead over Kwon Swon-Woo, a more mature 24-year old from South Korea with a solid if not slightly unremarkable game, Rune looked primed for his first grand slam victory.


Yes, as of only six months ago, Rune had still not won a grand slam match.


However, like many of his limited tour level matches prior, Rune became his own worst enemy. He would berate, if not robustly question his players box and his legs seized up under the weight of his first five set match with cramps setting in.


Rune fell to ruins and dropped the last two sets in relatively uncompetitive fashion to Kwon 3-6, 2-6 as he often and unsuccessfully served without using his legs to generate power and looked to shorten the points to stay alive.


A dejected Rune departed Melbourne as quickly as he arrived.


Nearly 10 months later, the Danish star has risen to number 10 in the world and is riding a hot-streak to the first alternate spot at this year’s ATP Tour finals in Turin having just defeated a record five top-10 players en-route to win the Paris Masters 1000.


In doing so, Rune became the first person ever to lose the opening set of a Masters 1000 final to Novak Djokovic and win. Djokovic had been 30-0 until this point.


Last week capped a meteoric rise for Rune who was outsides the world’s top 200 at the halfway point of 2021 and, only fourteen months ago, gallantly lost to Djokovic 1-6, 7-6, 2-6, 1-6 in the first round of the US Open.


Prior to landing in Paris, Rune had made the final of his last three events in Sofia (l. to Marc-Andrea Huesler), Stockholm (def. Tsitsipas) and Basel (l. to Auger-Aliassime) and defeated ultra-competitive Australian Alex de Minaur twice in four days.


Rune has long been on the radar of tennis aficionados. In 2017, he formed one half of a highly favoured junior doubles duo alongside his childhood rival and Paris casualty, Carlos Alcaraz.


A former junior world number one and product of the renowned Mouratoglou tennis academy alongside the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Coco Gauff, Rune turned professional in 2020 and he didn’t mess around.


By the end of the 2020, he was inside the top 500 and twelve months later he was at the door of the top 100. Now, the Dane looks to be a force to be reckoned with for the next decade at least.


What would appear to be a seamless rise to the upper echelon of men’s tennis has, controversially, been far from it.


In June 2021, during a semi-final at a Challenger in Italy, Rune was caught on camera repeatedly shouting homophobic slurs on court.


Despite insisting his words were directed internally, Rune was subsequently fined by the ATP and an apology was issued. However, when the sincerity of his initial apology was brought into question, Rune made some edits and had a second go at it.


In February 2022, Rune was the recipient of a wildcard at the Argentina Open – something the young Dane enjoyed repeatedly with many suggesting his connection to Patrick Mouratoglou has come in handy; although he shouldn’t need one any time soon – where he faced local hope Sebastian Baez.


After crashing out in straight sets, Rune took aim at the local crowd and voiced his displeasure at their boisterous support of the Argentinian accusing those crowd of intentionally off putting him and even went so far as to use the phrase harassment.


Rune’s claims were swiftly dismissed.


Some months later, at the French Open, Rune found himself facing his Scandinavian rival, the usually unflappable and “nicest guy in tennis”, Casper Ruud, in the quarter final.


After going down to the Norwegian in four tense sets – during which Rune repeatedly yelled at his box and successfully demanded his manager-mother leave the stadium while also accusing Ruud of unsportsmanlike behaviour – Rune offered Ruud a limp handshake causing Ruud to shake his head in dismay.


But it didn’t stop there.


Post-match, Rune accused the typically mild-mannered Ruud of accosting him in the dressing room, and screaming in his face ‘Yessssssss’ in his native tongue in an act of humiliation. A claim that was positively supported by Rune’s father.


Speaking later on ESPN, Ruud vehemently denied Rune’s claims, calling Rune’s tale a “pure lie” and offered a, frankly, more believable version of events that involved the players recovering from their match at opposing ends of the locker room.


In an Instagram post dedicated to his successful tournament (that included a fourth round win over Stefanos Tsitsipas) Rune admitted he needed to “find a way to win and this requires more emotional control”.


Similarly, while this week past ended in absolute joy for the young gun, it started with a triumph over three time slam champion, Stanislas Wawrinka, which gained notoriety for the wisdom the Swiss champ passed on to the Dane during their handshake.


After squandering three match points, Wawrinka allegedly advised Rune, who throughout the match had been displayed his usual juvenile antics: “my advice to you is that you stop acting like a baby on court.”


Rune’s mother who like many parents is quick to defend her son, then inserted herself into the equation by condescendingly responding to Wawrinka’s alleged advice.


“It is hard to imagine that a sportsman like Stan would have said that. Then he would come across as an uncommonly bad loser. Holger has only mentioned that he wished him well with the results of the past weeks.” Said the ‘momager’.


It appears that Rune and his family create drama wherever they go, with Holger earning a rather unlikeable reputation.


Yet, some perspective wouldn’t hurt.


After all, imagine all your teenage mistakes being broadcast to the world.


In the Dane’s own words, Roger Federer was “40 times worse” at the same age and he has “plenty of time” to improve his image.


While the Federer comparison might be a slight exaggeration, even the young brash Federer managed to avoid concocting falsehoods about his peers, many a fan favourite began their career as a teen with an attitude and image problem.


Federer, Hewitt, Kyrgios and Agassi (to name a few) all became known as irritating teens before, to varying degrees, growing to become fan favourites among the sport.


As to whether the emerging Rune can manage to turn his image around remains to be seen.


Only time will tell.


For now, we simply wait to see how long it takes Rune to continue his rise and crack the world’s top five.

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