Holger Rune’s unexpected victory over Novak Djokovic in the Paris Masters final represented a full-circle moment for the Danish teenager.
The last time he faced Djokovic, it was in the first round of the 2021 US Open, when he was a qualifier ranked 145th.
The Dane snatched the second set of that match against the dominant world No.1, thrilling the fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium who connected with the then-18-year-old’s prime-time energy.
His body was then beset by cramps, and Djokovic ran away with a 6-1 6-7(5) 6-2 6-1 victory.
But Rune felt something change that night in New York.
“Actually, at that match, I kind of believed that – I don't know, it might be very early to say – but I kind of believed more in myself that, wow, I can really do this, even though I lost,” he revealed to ausopen.com.
“I got more belief that night, and more trust in myself.
“I always had a special feeling about playing Grand Slams; it's kind of a different mindset you have, and it's really there that I want to put great things together.”
Rune continued to climb the rankings following that US Open performance but was unable to crack the top 100, expressing frustration with the adoption of a COVID-specific ranking formula which he believed had slowed his progress.
Yet he channelled that frustration positively in 2022, one he began as the world No.103.
Rune soared up the ATP chart and, as he hoped, put together some great things at the major tournaments he holds in such high regard.
He outplayed world No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal at Roland Garros, and after a third-round finish at the US Open, went on a rampage.
The teenager advanced to four consecutive ATP finals, winning in Stockholm and Paris, building a 19-2 record across that span, and improving his ranking from world No.31 to No.10.
He saved multiple match points to defeat three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka in his opening match in Paris.
He then beat five consecutive top-10 players – Hubert Hurkacz, Andrey Rublev, Carlos Alcaraz, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Djokovic – to claim the third, and biggest, ATP title of his career.
Perhaps in a nod to that cramp-affected US Open match against Djokovic a year earlier, New York Times tennis correspondent Christopher Clarey tweeted: “One of biggest surprises for me in teen Rune's breakthrough run to Paris title … was how well his body held up after (an) intense autumn and all those back-to-back matches vs Top 10.”
Rune’s Parisian masterclass was indeed proof of his commitment to hard work and improvement – as well as his passion for the sport.
“I'm so young, so I'm still improving, so I can really feel every day I'm getting better. So it really makes me pumped, actually,” he said.
“Being in those big matches, playing some of the big guys on the biggest stages in tennis, and going deep in those tournaments really pumps up the adrenaline. And it's really what you practice for every day.
#10 Hurkacz ✅— ATP Tour (@atptour) November 6, 2022
#9 Rublev ✅
#1 Alcaraz ✅
#8 Auger-Aliassime ✅
#7 Djokovic ✅
The first player on record to beat 5(!) Top-10 players in the same tournament, ?? @holgerrune2003! ?@RolexPMasters | #RolexParisMasters pic.twitter.com/4OBMa1xvLN
“Obviously you feel different every day you wake up, and some days you're not as motivated as others, but you can make yourself motivated quite easily. You don't always feel good, but you don't have to always feel good, I tell myself. And you've still got to do your job.
“I have some big dreams that can really get me motivated and help me to practice 100 per cent.”
We spoke to Rune before he went on his tear through the European indoor season.
At the time, his immediate focus was trying to crack the world’s top 25 before the year was done – a goal he spectacularly met, and surpassed.
A longer-term goal was to win as many Grand Slam titles as he could, and become world No.1.
Having won 50 singles matches this season, including nine of the 14 he has played against top-10 opponents, Rune is giving himself the best possible chance of realising those big dreams.
“I didn't start to play tennis because I wanted to play this or that tournament – I started because I just loved the sport,” said Rune, now an alternate for the eight-player ATP Finals in Turin.
“And then you get to play those tournaments. And you have your idols that you want to play against and play also the same tournaments as these guys.
“I'm very privileged now, with my ranking, that I can play these tournaments.”