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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, November 6, 2022

 
Holger Rune

19-year-old Holger Rune shocked defending champion Novak Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 to capture his maiden Masters crown in Paris and crack the Top 10.

Photo credit: Getty

The dream dangled in a dizzying climax to this Rolex Paris Masters final.

Holger Rune embraced it like a long-lost friend.

More: Rune Advances, Alcaraz Retires

The 19-year-old Dane rallied from a break down in the decisive set and fought off six break points in the fierce final game to dethrone defending champion Novak Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 and capture his maiden Masters championship in a pulsating Paris Masters final thriller.

"It's quite incredible. To stay here with the trophy, it's an amazing feeling," Rune told the media in Paris. "Something that was tough to expect, you know, starting the week off having three match points down. Then now to be able to be here with this beautiful trophy is absolutely amazing feeling."




In a classic generational clash, Rune beat Djokovic at his own game in a pressure-packed final game that spanned nearly 20 minutes and saw the teenager withstand severe pressure and spin one final forehand at the Serbian's feet, handcuffing the six-time champion into a netted volley.

An elated Rune fell flat on his back in euphoria absorbing a historic run.

"You're one of my favorite players. I've been watching you since I was a little kid, practicing with you," Rune told Djokovic during the trophy ceremony. "It's a pleasure to be able to share the court with you now."




In an electrifying tournament trek, Rune made history as the first man (at a non ATP Finals event) to defeat five Top 10-ranked players—Hubert Hurkacz, Andrey Rublev, world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, Basel champion Felix Auger-Aliassime and former No. 1 Djokovic—and capture his maiden Masters championship.

After ending 2021 ranked No. 103, Rune is peaking in Paris making history as the first Danish man to rocket into the ATP Top 10.

All this from a teenager who was contesting his fourth straight hard-fourt final this fall. Rune is not only a Top 10 terror—he is now 9-5 vs. Top 10 opponents in 2022 matching Alcaraz for the ATP lead—he's a serial streak snapper.




A day after Rune ravaged Auger-Aliassime's 16-match winning streak, he ended Djokovic's 13-match winning streak.  

"His fighting spirit, I think [was key]. He stayed composed also mentally all the way to the last shot," Djokovic said. "For somebody who is so young to show this composure and maturity in the big match like this is very impressive. He's had a week of his life, I mean, winning against four or five Top-10 players, you know, it's quite impressive.

"He deserved it. You know, I had so many chances. I mean, all sets. Early in the second again, like the last two matches. Love-40, didn't use that. Just missed by little the backhand down the line passing shot Love-40. 30-40, incredible get he had from my smash. Just like one of these moments where match goes one way or the other way. I thought that if I would break his serve there, you know, I would keep the momentum going, but he managed to turn around.

"Again, the crowd got on his side. Lifted him up. But very exciting match. You know, had my chances."

The bold Dane sporting the backward baseball cap and toothy smile now joins Alcaraz, who is out for the season after tearing his abdominal muscle in his quarterfinal loss, as the second teenager in the ATP Top 10. Rune will also make the trip to Turin as the first alternate for this month's ATP Finals.

The owner of 90 titles, Djokovic has been a lightning rod for criticism for some since he opted against taking the Coronavirus vaccine and was bounced out of Australia last January.

An admirable aspect of Djokovic's career: he shows class and credits his conqueror after heart-breaking losses. Standing next to the paragon of sportsmanship, Hall of Famer Stefan Edberg, Djokovic showed pure class praising Rune as a worthy champion today.




"I want to say congratulations to your team and your family. You absolutely deserve this victory," Djokovic told Rune. "What an amazing week you had. I'm not happy that you beat me, but on the other hand I'm happy for you because I like your personality and I think you're a very dedicated guy that loves tennis and puts a lot of hours into tennis. It's paying off for you and I'm sure the future is bright for you and your team.

"Tough luck today, but I lost to a better opponent in the crucial moments. I'm just proud of another great fight. Some you win, some you lose. There's always the next challenge to look up to. I'm very pleased with the performance."

It's that philosophical perspective that has helped Djokovic bounce back from so many setbacks in his career.

Still, this is a stinging loss that could linger because the seven-time Wimbledon winner was in position for a seventh Paris crown, let his control slip and Rune was better on pivotal points. Despite Djokovic's vast edge in experience—he was contesting his record-extending 56th Masters final while the teenager was playing his first Masters final—remarkably Rune kept his head together better at crunch time and repeatedly worked the crowd into a frenzy of supportive roars.

Djokovic squandered triple break-point to start the second set the blew a 3-1 lead in the final set as Rune won six of the final eight games.

In a shot that may well haunt him, Djokovic missed a routine backhand pass on his fifth break point in the final game. That uncharacteristic error from his trusty two-hander denied Djokovic a chance to force a tiebreaker. 

Ultimately, Rune won the match rather than Djokovic losing it.

Rune's run reinforces why tennis is the most engaging sport: There is life after near-competitive death in tennis.

Rune fended off three match points in his opening-round win against Stan Wawrinka that left the three-time Grand Slam champion castigating the teenager as "a baby" during the post-match handshake.

Dangling on the ledge of loss only made Rune bring his boldest tennis against the elite.

Tennis Express

Given both men can crack the return, first-serve precision figured to be key to this final.

Djokovic spun successive aces holding for 2-1.

A rattle Rune, who had been aggressive on second serve throughout the tournament, spit up consecutive double faults to cede the opening break and a 3-1 lead to the sixth seed.




The six-time champion rolled through a strong hold at 15 confirming the break for a 4-1 lead after only 20 minutes of play. A sharp Djokovic won 12 of the last 15 points creating separation from the teenage.

After that one horrid service game, Rune settled in and stayed in step the rest of the set.



Dexterity digging balls out of the corners enables Djokovic to play down the middle provoking opponents to incur the risk. Showing his balance off both wings, Djokovic drilled a running forehand down the the line and followed with a smash for set points. Attacking behind a backhand, Djokovic closed the 36-minute opening set.

Trying to force a forehand down the line, Rune missed the mark to face triple break point in the opening game of set two. Rune responded big time, erasing all three break points then firing a forehand for a game point.

That spirited stand prompted some sections of the crowd to chant "Holger! Holger!" in appreciation.

A fired-up Rune answered the calls with a committed hold to start the second set.




Perhaps ruing lost opportunity, Djokovic botched a forehand approach, looping it long to face a break point in the next game. When Djokovic misfired on a forehand down the line, Rune had his first break of the day and a 2-0 lead after 53 minutes.

A commitment to creative first strike tennis—and his skill stepping in to take the ball on the rise—make Rune a fun player to watch. The world No. 18, who entered the final with an 8-5 record vs. Top 10 opponents in 2022, backed up the break for a 3-0 lead.

It takes majestic ball control—a major cojones—to beat the former world No. 1 in a cat-and-mouse net exchange, but Rune did exactly that working the 35-year-old Serbian side-to-side and flashing a winner. Rune slithered a dipping pass at the Serbian's feet to fight through a stirring hold for 5-2.




Rune rapped a backhand down the line for triple set point and forced a final set when Djokovic netted a drop shot after 80 minutes of play.

The 21-time Grand Slam champion locked down on the baseline shrinking open court space for his opponent. Rune committed a cluster of errors to face another triple break point chasm in the fourth game of the decider.

Though he pumped his third ace to save the first break point, Rune's need for speed caught up to him on the next. The teenager dumped his sixth double fault to gift-wrap the break and a 3-1 lead.

During the ensuing game, Djokovic, who was stretching his hamstrings between points a few times, requested the trainer.

The 35-year-old Serbian was in control of a point but tapped a high backhand volley right back at Rune who exploited the lapse for break point. Rune successfully challenged a Djokovic first serve wrongly ruled an ace then beat Djokovic at his own game.

Defending everything the Serbian threw at him, Rune patiently waited for Djokovic to make his move then flashed a forehand pass breaking back for 2-3.

"3-1, 30-Love, then he went for the huge return, caught the let, passed me, caught the net and then went over," Djokovic said. "That game again on deuce, net, over. Yeah, I mean, just is one of these things when it happens, it happens.

"But, you know, I can't say he just won because he was lucky. He was brave. He went for the shots. I wasn't active enough and decisive enough in the important moments.

"Unfortunately, bounced back against me."

During the changeover, Djokovic took treatment for a left leg issue. When he returned to action, he was still running with vigor, sliding in pursuit of shots and hitting open-stance backhands.




The Djokovic backhand down the line is a signature shot. Rune showed superb skill with that shot belting backhand winners down the line that helped him navigate a tense hold, fending off break point along the way, to even after eight games.


Deadlocked at 5-all, Rune ran down a drop shot then threw down a smash to reach 30-all. Djokovic missed the mark with his trusty two-hander. It was only his fourth unforced error of the set but put him a break-point bind. Rune stabbed back a backhand return to extend the point, wisely kept the ball deep and gave the defending champion the opportunity to go for it.

Djokovic's diagonal forehand that strayed wide of the sideline. That crucial miss gave Rune his second break of the set and a 6-5 lead.

Embed from Getty Images

Showing his mettle, Rune fought off two break points.

Just as Rune was into his second-serve motion some idiot in the crowd screamed. Both men kept their concentration and played out the point that ended when Djokovic dumped a drop shot into the net. Rune whipped the wide serve to set up a routine volley on the serve-and-volley, but he pushed it long to face a fourth break point. A gutsy Rune streaked forward for a swing volley then clubbed a smash erasing the fourth break point.




In a wild rally that spanned all areas of the court, Djokovic deployed the drop shot-lob combination to set up a volley for a fifth break point. Still sucking wind, Rune incurred a time violation warning and showed courage. Rune came forward and dodged a bullet when Djokovic missed a routine backhand pass. Rune carved out a clever drop volley winner for championship point.

The Dane let it all ride with two massive serves double-faulting away championship points. Rune repelled a sixth break point with a big second serve.

Fending off a forehand in the corner, Rune fired one final forehand that Djokovic half-volleyed into net then crashed to the court in joy. 

"I would say always before matches I believe I can win, no matter who I'm going to play," Rune said. "Obviously I know it was going to take some extra today because it's in the final. He played, if I'm not wrong, over a hundred ATP Finals in his career. He's much more experienced than I am.

"I just tried to use my young power, willpower, to do everything I can to put him under pressure. I played great in the important moments today, and that was what made the difference. He was really tough to play. It's probably one of the toughest matches I've ever played in my life."

 

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