‘I was a small boy sparring with Djokovic, now I can threaten his Turin hopes’

Holger Rune will make his ATP Finals debut against Novak Djokovic on Sunday – four years after he was just a “small boy” called in as a hitting partner for players competing in the season-ending championships. Rune sparred with the world No 1 when he was just 16 years old, but Djokovic now knows that the youngster can threaten his chances of winning the ATP Finals and he is already expecting another close match.

While this week marks the first time that Rune will compete at the ATP Finals, he has some experience when it comes to the prestigious season-ending tournament. Last year, Rune was one of the alternates and back in 2019, he served as a hitting partner for the top eight. Aged just 16, the Dane captured the junior No 1 ranking in 2019 and was subsequently invited to be a hitter at the ATP Finals when it was still staged in London’s O2 Arena.

Rune got the opportunity to spar with the likes of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic as a result, sharing some snaps alongside Djokovic at the time. Four years on, he will play his first-ever ATP Finals match against the 24-time Major champion. Ahead of his debut, Rune reflected on his days as a sparring partner when he was shown a video of one of his 2019 practices with Djokovic.

“It’s amazing,” Rune told ATP Media. “Mostly knowing that there was a small boy practising being a hitting partner, to now competing against [Djokovic], it’s cool. I felt like I didn’t want to miss a ball because I was afraid that they were getting mad at me, because you want to do the best for them. But now I don’t want to do the best for him on the court.”

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The good news for Rune is that he already has a victory over Djokovic on an indoor hard court – conditions that the Serb favours. Last year, he stunned the world No 1 in the final of the Paris Masters as a 19-year-old. He also defeated Djokovic in the Rome Masters quarter-final back in May. But Djokovic recently got revenge in Paris by beating Rune in the quarter-final last week.

It was a closely-contested match with the 36-year-old just coming through 7-5 6-7(3) 6-4. Looking ahead to their meeting in Turin, Rune said: “You cannot wish that he misses a shot or wish that he has an off day. He loses probably four to five matches a year, so he doesn’t have off days.

“The only wish you can have in yourself is to try to play your best tennis and be the most focused on the court in your life. You have to be ready to give everything. I do enjoy playing him, because it’s amazing to share the court with such a legend and we’ve always had great battles together. Last time in Paris was [last week], it was also another good battle. So I have to learn a little bit from that and do it a bit different this time, so I can get the win.”

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While Djokovic was victorious in their most recent meeting, the six-time ATP Finals champion knows that the world No 10 could pose a threat when they meet again in Turin. “Holger has his debut in the Finals,” Djokovic told ATP Media.

“We’re going to see a lot of him I’m sure in the future. He’s got Boris Becker, the legend of the game in his corner now and he’s been improving himself as well. Every time we face each other, it’s a close match, so I’ll probably have to expect that one again.”

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