It fits to describe Holger Rune–the sixth-ranked male tennis player in the world heading into the French Open–in terms of temperature. His focus and determination are stone cold, best evinced by the way he perpetually stalks the back of the court during play. He can go from heated about a call to rifling off an unfazed frozen-rope forehand to get back on track. And his irises are the color of ice-sheathed slate. They don’t do a very good job of hiding his goal: to be and to stay at the apex of the game. “From the day he said he wanted to be the best in the world, around age six or seven,” says his mother and manager, Aneke, “I saw fire in his eyes.”
Rune is now twenty, and that benchmark is very much within reach. The day before the French Open began, we met at his hotel in a leafy enclave of western Paris, not far from Stade Roland Garros’ hallowed red-clay grounds. Spring was in full swing, and, in this particular arrondissement, it seemed to relax both its denizens, sunning in their gardens, and drop-ins, many here for the tournament, alike. Rune, 6’2” with big strides, ambled calmly through the room, casually tossing his tennis bag on the floor before taking a seat. “I just trained with Tommy Paul,” he said, settling in. “It was sort of a practice match, with an umpire, ball kids, a crowd. It was fun. Good fun.” He smiled wide. This is another Rune trait, though maybe less obvious. On court, he is stern-faced, and, not infrequently, visibly displeased about one thing or another. But otherwise, he appears to be genuinely, expressively happy–a guy who is downright “obsessed” with tennis. “You have to be,” he said, smiling again.
A former world number one on the junior circuit (he actually won the French Open Boys’ title in 2019), the Danish Rune turned pro in 2020. His climb really got started in 2022: He took the BMW Open last May in Munich (which he won again just a few weeks ago), delivered a breakthrough into the quarters at last year’s French Open, and secured the Stockholm Open in October. He then scored a unique moment in tennis history: Rune clinched the Rolex Paris Masters in November, in the process becoming the first man ever to defeat five top-10 players in a single tournament, including Novak Djokovic. In 2023, he’s also made it to the finals of two high-profile, high-level events: the Monte-Carlo Masters and the Italian Open, taking second place to Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev, respectively. During the clay court season this year, he often sported a camouflaging monochrome Nike set. Dripped in a terra cotta tone that blended with the court’s surface, on TV in Monaco and Rome he looked like something of a red-earth wraith, haunting the corners and executing frighteningly good shot-making.
He’s still young enough that each of these tournaments—the triumphs and the almost-triumphs—are formative learning experiences. “[Paris] gave me a lot of belief,” said Rune. “That I could beat these top players. But even from wins, you have to move ahead quickly. It’s about consistency–and being able to do it all over again.” Regarding the runner-up slots in Monaco and Italy: “If I’m being honest, I [wasn’t] brave enough in those finals.”
Rune has occasionally drawn ire for his behavior and antics on court. He is not a “bad boy,” as some have labeled him–there may be racket tossing, but there is no racket-snapping, and no bullying. Yet he does often have something to say. He isn’t afraid to argue with umpires, or incense crowds. His disposition has occasionally irked some players on the tour (Stan Wawrinka and Casper Ruud among them). Most notably, his competitive mannerisms are markedly different from the cohort of tennis’s rising young male stars: the 20-year-old Carlos Alcaraz is a little snappier and springier and the 21-year-old Jannik Sinner is more stoic. On the other hand, Rune’s style is more pointedly tactical. It’s emotional. It’s fiery. And even if that means alienating the odd audience or opponent, he’s OK with it.