By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, May 16, 2023
Gazing across the net at Holger Rune feels like looking into a mirror for Novak Djokovic.
World No. 1 Djokovic said the 20-year-old Rune reminds him of an accomplished Big 3 champion: himself.
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The seventh-ranked Rune repelled Aussie qualifier Alexei Popyrin 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 setting up a Rome quarterfinal clash vs. Djokovic.
Continuing his quest for a seventh Rome crown, Djokovic defeated Cameron Norrie 6-3, 6-4 reaching his 17th consecutive Rome quarterfinal.
The top-seeded Djokovic said the rangy Rune’s balance off both wings, court coverage and his ability to excel on all surfaces remind him of the man in the mirror.
“[Rune] kind of reminds me a little bit, the way he plays. Really fit physically, great defense, but also great counter-puncher,” Djokovic said. “He can hurt you from both forehand and backhand side. Really solid serve. Aggressive returns.
“Just all-around player on all surfaces. Particularly on clay I think he finds himself really comfortable playing. He played finals of Monaco, was really close to win the title there.
“He’s in very good form and I look forward to a challenge. I think it’s going to be a very physical match.”
Monte-Carlo finalist Rune, who has been a Djokovic fan since his junior days, was buzzed by the Serbian superstar’s comparison.
“I heard Novak said that. Yeah, I mean, it’s a good thing I think,” Rune said with a smile. “Novak, obviously he has an amazing career…
“I’m feeling better and better coming into Roland Garros. I feel like I’m getting closer to my best level. Still a few things that I feel like I can do better, which is nice.
“Tomorrow’s going to be a good challenge to see where I’m at. Novak is one of the greatest players that ever played the game. It’s good to have the chance to challenge myself and challenge hopefully Novak tomorrow.”
If it’s anything like their last clash, it could be electric.
Last November, the determined 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 Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 and capture his maiden Masters championship in a pulsating Paris Masters final thriller.
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.
Work until your idols become your rivals.
❤️ @holgerrune2003 @DjokerNole pic.twitter.com/fKEi4fMWUd
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) November 6, 2022
“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 Paris trophy ceremony. “It’s a pleasure to be able to share the court with you now.”
What does Rune expect in their Rome rematch?
The Paris champion said he envisions another all-court match and knows he must bring his best to beat the best.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s going to be so different,” Rune said. “Novak is an all-court player. I think he’s tough no matter where you play him.
“He’s shown that. He’s won Rome six times. It says itself that it’s going to be tough. I have to be at my best. Now recover physically, try to be as ready as I can for tomorrow, try to play my best tennis because I will need that for tomorrow, for sure.”
Photo credit: Getty