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Newest ATP title-holder Holger Rune – ‘I won’t be satisfied until I’m world No 1’

With a first ATP Tour title under his belt, the Danish teenager is already inside the world’s top 50 and – as he tells Sasa Ozmo in this exclusive interview – he has big dreams

Holger Rune Holger Rune of Denmark clenches his fist in Munich (Imago/Panoramic)

On a cold and windy afternoon in Belgrade, approximately 2,000 people gathered in the stands of Novak Tennis Centre.

“He is supposed to be the next big thing!”

An older man with glasses was talking to his friend and pointing his finger to 19-year-old Holger Rune. On the court, the teenager from Denmark was making quick work of Cristian Garin. He went on to complete a perfect week, which included a win over the defending champion Alexander Zverev, by lifting his first ATP Tour title. 

Following his win over Garin, we met in the club right next to the court. Rune is a rare combination – he is a bit shy, but exudes confidence at the same time. “I won’t be satisfied until I am the No 1 player in the world,” proclaimed Rune in his interview with Tennis Majors. 

He also spoke on his short-term goals, his team around him, the advice he sought from Novak Djokovic, and improvements he needs to make to fulfil his dreams. 

How would you describe your playing style to a casual fan who hasn’t watched you play a lot?

I would say that I am an aggressive baseliner that likes to come to the net and plays with attitude. 

What are the areas of the game where you have the most room for improvement in the next year or so?

I need to be cooler under pressure, I can’t allow myself to lose my head. I am really working on that because on the Tour you have to be there on every point, you can’t just give away free points because you are angry. I have to learn how to remain composed, to stay in the moment and be focused. I know that there is only one way to go up, I feel I am heading in the right direction. It is a lot of hard work day in and day out, but if it was easy, then everybody would do it. 

How are you working on staying composed – do you use specific techniques and do you have help from someone?

I have help from my mum (Aneke Rune) and my tennis coach Lars (Christensen). They know what it takes to be up there (with the best) and they know my level. If I do what I need to, I have a chance to be the best in the world. As I said, it is not going to be easy, but I am ready: it’s what I want, it’s my dream. 

On the court, I tell myself not to show weakness. If you show weakness, it is almost certain that you are going to lose, because the opponent is getting more pumped. For example today (his match vs. Garin), Garin showed a lot of weakness when he was angry, which just made me more energised and motivated to play even better. I think you need to play with the poker face a bit. 

How would you describe the role of your mum Aneke and your coach Lars in your career and your life?

My mum has been supporting me since I started playing tennis. She is great for me because she helps me with a lot of mental stuff, as well as on the court together with my coach Lars. Without her, I wouldn’t be the same person that I am. I mean, I wouldn’t be born without her, haha. She is pushing me to my limits. 

As for Lars, he keeps me disciplined all the time. I am a happy guy, I like to have fun on the court as well. I think it is a mix – if you are going to spend 15 years on the Tour, you need to have fun and to enjoy it. At the same time, if you want to be as good as I want to be, you need to be disciplined and to keep listening. I am very young and if I stop listening too early, it is not going to turn out well. I try to keep my mind open and to listen.

We have covered the mental aspect of tennis, but game-wise, what is the next step you are looking to make?

I want to play in one way, to keep playing my game, to walk the straight line and not to play…like a junior, let’s say. For example, when you want to win a point quickly, you go for the drop shot because you think it is going to be fast, but probably 70 per cent of the time you are going to lose the point. I can’t allow myself to try to sneak out like that, I need to take the longer route because in the end it is the shorter route. 

You have mentioned several times that Novak (Djokovic) gave you some pretty good advice. What exactly did you two talk about?

After we played at the US Open, he was very surprised that I did not retire due to cramps. I definitely think that I earned his respect that night and I am very happy for that because it is not easy to get it – Novak is the best in the world, which goes hand in hand with certain standards.

We spoke a lot about the mental aspect of the game. He is also a human being, although he does not seem like a human when he plays sometimes. He has his feelings, just like any other person, but chooses to go the right way. Those are details, he told me to be patient and to take the long way, and that it is going to be all right. 

You have been struggling with cramping in a few matches now. How do you try to solve it?

I have talked to a lot of different specialists both in Denmark and in France. I have learned some things that will help me not to cramp.

You said “France”, as you are practising at the Mouratoglou Academy as well. Could you describe that experience and your relationship with Patrick (Mouratoglou)?

It is really good. They pick a few players at a young age and support them, players they feel have the potential to become champions. Luckily, they chose me, so I am able to go there and practise with all the other players. For me, it is a perfect environment. Obviously, Patrick took a big risk with me, but I think he is happy about it because I am doing well and I keep improving. I won’t be satisfied before I am the No 1 player in the world. I want to challenge for the biggest title, that is my mission. 

Are you looking to add more people to your team?

Yes, actually. I have just added a physiotherapist, which I feel is really important. I was struggling with my back a bit at the start of the season, so the first three months have been tough, on and off. There was a lot of pain, but now it is gone and I am able to play pain-free.

Long-term, you said you wanted to be the best in the world, but what are your goals until the end of the year?

I want to break into the top 25, but small steps first, I want to enter the top 50 first. I am not far, but it takes some work. I am ready. 

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