“He is not gonna stop until we beat him” – Rune aiming to end Djokovic’s unending supremacy
The young Dane is one of only three men – along with Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz – to have beaten Djokovic in the past six months. But, until the Serb is regularly beaten at the biggest events, Rune believes his dominance will continue
When Holger Rune beat Novak Djokovic in the final of the 2022 Paris Masters, one could have been forgiven for thinking that the Serb’s two-decade reign at the top of the sport was perhaps finally nearing its end.
At the time, tennis was still reeling, somewhat dazed and delirious, from the extraordinary spectacle that was Carlos Alcaraz‘s breakthrough year. The young Spaniard was about to become the youngest ever year-end No 1, having just powered to his maiden Grand Slam title in New York at 19 years of age.
With Jannik Sinner pushing the Serb to five sets in Wimbledon earlier that summer adding to Alcaraz’s historic back-to-back wins against Rafael Nadal and then Djokovic in Madrid, Rune – having enjoyed a milestone season of his own – appeared to have joined the party of ‘Next Gen’ players to arrive at the top table with his stunning victory over Djokovic in Bercy.
djokovic’s dominance remains as strong as ever
What followed should not have surprised anyone. And yet, the sheer extent of Djokovic’s supremacy in 2023 undid almost every storyline that had appeared to be unfolding throughout 2022.
The now 24-time Grand Slam champion went on a 20-match winning streak after his loss to Rune, winning the ATP Finals, a 10th Australian Open and returning to world No 1 along the way. Winning three out of the four majors, and falling only in the final of Wimbledon, 2023 would go down as one the Serb’s greatest seasons, at the age of 36, in a career that is full of them.
Rune is under no illusions about the size of the task ahead of the likes of himself, Alcaraz and Sinner in bringing an end to the perennial greatness of Djokovic.
“Novak is still there, we need to try to get him out of here.”Holger Rune
“Novak is still winning three out of four Grand Slams this year,” Rune said recently on the Advantage Connors Podcast.
“So we cannot say that he is gone because we need to beat him like not just one time but like every time. I will try to beat him every time because if he keeps winning these big tournaments, why would he stop?”
head-to-head records are impressive, but currently not enough
Since Rune’s second victory over Djokovic at the Italian Open this year, only Alcaraz and Sinner have joined the Dane in posting wins over the Serb this season.
Since then, Rune’s 2-1 head-to-head record against Novak has been flipped to 3-2 in Djokovic’s favour, while Alcaraz’s momentous victory in the Wimbledon final has been followed by successive defeats to the Serb.
Only Sinner has managed to improve his head-to-head against Djokovic, becoming the only man to beat the 24-time Grand Slam champion twice this year, with two victories in eleven days forming the apex of a superb home stretch of the season for the Italian.
Rune’s comments – and Sinner’s recent success – both highlight the key to unlocking Djokovic’s stranglehold on the sport. In order for a fresh generation of players to get to the top and stay there, they need to be beating the Serb regularly and on the biggest stages.
While sporadic victories over arguably the greatest player of all time point to an individual player’s talent and potential, it is only repeated success against Djokovic that will allow the younger players to assert themselves against such a dominant force.
“He is not gonna stop until we beat him so the sooner we can get the level raised, the sooner we will take over,” Rune explains.
“I actually like that Novak is still here because you know for us young players to really see what the real world is in a way, what the real deal is…
“If you never experience Roger, Rafa or Novak, I think we would miss something and I think Novak is an extremely high standard. For us to see that so close is very helpful.”
can the brightest talent of tomorrow dislodge Novak today?
There is little doubt that all of Rune, Sinner and Alcaraz have what it takes to put together careers worthy of tennis’ greatest players. All three are still so young and have achieved so much in their early years.
“I think it’s really cool to be a part of this group because you know, all of us have been doing very very well, you know, Sinner had a phenomenal season, Alcaraz also with the Wimbledon title,” Rune continued.
“It’s really great to have this rivalry with us three players as we had the generation Roger, Rafa, Novak, Murray and yeah for the sport to grow, it’s really amazing to have this group of guys that can dominate the tour.”
The problem for these three, however, is that they are still playing in the era of, most probably, the greatest tennis player to have ever competed.
The true metric of this young crop’s potential will, for now, be measured against their ability to master an opponent who has yet to be mastered.
To truly dislodge Djokovic has been an unattainable task for all who’ve yet tried it.
For Rune, Sinner and Alcaraz – as well as a host of other existing and emerging talent from generations above and below – reaching the top of the sport is dependent on achieving this most formidable of tasks. Djokovic will not relinquish it of his own accord.
As Rune so succinctly puts it, “Novak is still there, we need to try to get him out of here.”