Before this week, Holger Rune had never won a Grand Slam match. And when he commenced his campaign at Roland Garros, it was only his third appearance at a Grand Slam tournament.
Now he finds himself in the fourth round, without having dropped a set – and on the brink of the world’s top 30.
Rune stormed into the last 16 with a 6-3 6-3 6-3 win over Frenchman Hugo Gaston under lights at Court Philippe Chatrier, a match in which Gaston had the full force of the local crowd behind him.
Yet Rune ensured their energy and vocal support rarely took hold to influence the contest, the result of which left Gaston slightly shell-shocked and glowing in his assessment of the Danish teen.
“I just have to congratulate him for what he did,” Gaston said. “He hits the ball really hard. He makes very few unforced errors. He serves really well. He has many shots in his racquet. He uses dropshots and he's got very good hands.
“He just seized all the opportunities tonight.”
Gaston describes an impressively complete player with few weaknesses, providing context to Rune’s stellar clay-court season.
The 19-year-old is now 20-4 on the surface in 2022, helped by winning his maiden ATP title in Munich a month ago.
He followed that with a semifinal run in Lyon, then notched his first ever Grand Slam win when he completely outplayed No.14 seed Denis Shapovlov in the opening round in Paris.
There was no let-down, with Rune next dismissing Henri Laaksonen 6-2 6-3 6-3 before swatting aside Gaston.
He had long shown promise; Rune was a Roland Garros boys’ single champion and junior world No.1 in 2019, and pushed Novak Djokovic in an entertaining first-round clash at last year’s US Open. And he has always been an extremely hard worker with an insatiable appetite for success.
All factors contributing to his rise appear to be coming together during this French fortnight.
“I have stayed very focused the whole tournament… not giving a lot away,” he said after beating Laaksonen.
“Really staying in the moment, focusing each set at a time. That's really been the key, because in these long (five-set) matches, I think you cannot afford to look too much forward because the match can be very long.
“I really told myself just to stay in the moment, be the best version of myself.
“I really like the conditions here. It feels very much like home actually for me to be playing here. As I won as a junior, I have obviously great memories and kind of know the courts even though it's been three years since I was here.
“Just feels really natural for me to play in the environment, and I have a lot of good fans here and family. It's for me in a way very cozy to play here.”
Rune’s next opponent is world No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas, who, unlike the Dane, has struggled mightily to reach this point in Paris.
Last year’s Roland Garros finalist trailed Lorenzo Musetti by two-sets-to-love in his first match, and came extremely close to being pushed to five again – this time against Czech qualifier Zdenek Kolar in round two – before surviving in four.
However, Tsitsipas rediscovered his imperious best against Mikael Ymer, flattening the Swede for the loss of just five games on Saturday.
Rune, ranked 40th, is projected to rise to world No.31, and higher with a defeat of Tsitsipas.
While not the favourite, he admitted he embraced the opportunity to take on the sport’s biggest stars.
“This is what you work for every day to be able to play the biggest tournaments. And to play these kind of players like Denis also is great for me. It's amazing level,” he said after beating Shapovalov.
“I'm super happy and pleased to be in this position right now. To be able to have chances against these guys, to be able to win my first title in Munich (where he beat world No.3 Alexander Zverev en route) was a huge step forward in my career.
“I'm improving every day. I'm trying to improve one per cent every day, always to do things a little better than the day before.
“I think this has really helped me a lot.”