Holger Rune is the World No. 1 in the junior circuit, but the 17-year-old is already making a mark on the pro tour too. Rune is ranked No. 317 in the world right now, having climbed more than 500 spots in the past 12 months.
With a French Open boys' singles title under his belt, the Dane is now focused on conquering the professional circuit.
In an in-depth interview with Sportskeeda, Holger Rune opened up about feeling like a 'freak' in his childhood and how he first got attracted to tennis. He also spoke at length about his family, his long-term ambitions, his idols - which include both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal - and his recent ATP debut.
Here are the excerpts from the interaction:
Exclusive interview with Holger Rune
Sportskeeda: What is your earliest memory of tennis as a child?
Holger Rune: I remember my practices with the foam ball and the mini nets in the local club. I think we were 20 kids on the tennis court and they put up these mini nets, and we were learning the grip and then trying to get the ball over the net. I was completely focused on getting the ball over the net, and it was just completely different from the football that I also played.
It was very satisfying, in a totally different way than football. And after that, I think I just started loving to hit forehands more and more. When the class was over I actually went home and was hitting more forehands against the wall. And when my parents had enough of the sound of the foam ball through the wall, I did shadow forehand with no ball. I could stand there for hours.
Sportskeeda: Denmark didn't have any Grand Slam champions until very recently (Caroline Wozniacki). Was it difficult growing up in a country with so little tennis history? How did you start dreaming to be the best in a sport which didn't have that great a presence around you?
Holger Rune: In many ways, I was not like the others because I loved my sport so much. In Denmark, all sports are for fun, even though there are the world's best badminton players and swimmers and handball players. Sport is generally not considered as a proper job, so if you're dedicated to sport in Denmark - no matter what sport - you have to be really passionate to go all the way.
Because somehow you are (considered) a freak. I didn’t want to go to birthdays after school if that meant I had to cancel my tennis, and this was considered very odd. I know my mom often had to call and come up with various excuses because people thought it was odd that I preferred my sport over a birthday with cake and gaming.
In the beginning, my mother said I had to go, because it was the right thing when you were invited, and social (interaction) was important in school and all. But after many birthdays, I insisted on not going. And at one point I started to cry, and then my mother called and told the parents, 'Holger prefers his tennis over birthday, sorry'. End of story.
After that, it was kind of accepted. I know it's easier for boys than girls, because my sister also played tennis and if you didn't attend birthdays as a girl you were kind of out of the group. That was not easy for her.
With the boys, it's different. If I was there, it was cool; if I wasn't, it was cool also. (It was) the same when I started to travel a lot. The boys were always cool.
My sister ended up quitting tennis because she had to hear all the time that she was missing out on this and that. Also, the teachers were very much on you, calling our parents and telling us that we had to attend this and that because otherwise it was considered unsocial.
It is kind of a pressure in Denmark to do what everyone else does. And I am really grateful to my parents that they stood up and listened to me and accepted that it was okay doing different stuff than the rest of my school class. I think Caroline (Wozniacki) must have had the same feeling when she was little.
Sportskeeda: Many players choose not to publicly talk about their goals, as they worry about whether they can walk the talk. But you have gone on record to state that your goals include breaking into the top 100 this year, and winning Slams and being No. 1 in the future. Does openly declaring your objectives add pressure on you, or does it fuel your drive to achieve them?
Holger Rune: I dream big. I have done that since I was little. I think maybe all children dream big. They are just not heard or their dreams are not accepted or taken seriously.
Maybe people or even your parents laugh, and you get embarrassed and start to dream smaller dreams. Or you tend not to share your dreams because you are afraid of what people (might) think.
I think this is maybe why many people do not dare to say their dreams out loud. I think the part about pressure comes much later.
My parents backed me up in my dreams. I remember many dinner parties with (extended) family, and the family was like but you have to go to school, you cannot live off your tennis. But my parents always said, 'Sure he can'. They truly believe that you can achieve anything you want if you really want it, are passionate, and work your ass off.
Maybe this is why I am not scared. And yes, dreams come with pressure to perform. But why hide it? The pressure doesn’t go away just because you don’t talk about it. Then it's just in your head; (you have to deal with it) alone instead.
Sportskeeda: This month, you have made your ATP main draw debut in Buenos Aires, and also qualified for your first ATP Tour event in Chile. Is there any particular difference you have noticed at the ATP tour level as compared to the ITF and Challenger levels?
Holger Rune: I have no words (to describe it). It's like a crazy upgrade to business class. The whole environment is just so professional. All the players, coaches, umpires, ATP staff, etc - they are all there for you.
In ITF tournaments. it's not always like that. Yes (it's there) in some tournaments, but only a few.
I had the same feeling at Roland Garros and the Masters (ITF Junior Masters) final in China. It was so professional. And somehow, it just feels good to put in so much energy into your sport when people around you know and are there to support. I love that. I can't wait to play more ATP events.
Sportskeeda: You had a great run in Chile, to say the least. You came through the qualifiers, beat the No. 2 seed Benoit Paire, and made it all the way to the quarterfinals. How much confidence does your run through the draw give you for the rest of the season?
Holger Rune: This is where I want to be. I need experience on this level so I was so grateful to have the wild card (in Buenos Aires). You can practice and practice, but experience comes by being out there in the field.
My coach has told me many times I had the level to compete here. We have been working a lot to improve my physique, so naturally, it feels good having the chance to test myself at this level.
I was really sad that I couldn't (defeat) Federico Delbonis in the quarterfinal, but it's okay. I am not finished improving, and I learn from every experience. I still feel humble in that way.
I am very eager to play more ATP events to prove to myself that I can do this now. It's really hard winning matches at this level. I was actually a little surprised. It's really demanding.
I know it will be easier in two years because I will be bigger at that time - bigger serve, more (strong) physically. But I have the tennis (game) and I want to be at this level now, and then it will just be like an extra present when I get the bigger serve.
At the same time, I will be used to the fight. This could be a really dangerous cocktail in the future. And since I have very big ambitions, I need to be dangerous.
Sportskeeda: What is your favorite shot, and your favorite surface to play on?
Holger Rune: I love hitting forehands. It's so satisfying. But my backhand down the line has saved me many times in matches - so much so that even though I have no big passion for backhands, I have started to love that shot also.
And I love all surfaces, honestly.
Sportskeeda: Which is the one tournament you would like to win more than any other in the world?
Holger Rune: Because I had such a good experience at Roland Garros, I think this one will always be very special. But I really liked being at the US Open also.
It means something to feel good at a tournament. I remember all tournaments and all the places where I felt really good, and where I played well also.
I have always felt very good in France. They are passionate tennis people. Maybe this is why I have won many tournaments in France.
Sportskeeda: What do you think is your biggest strength, and what is one area that you need to improve on?
Holger Rune: I am constantly improving everything. My coach and I are super focused on my physique and serve. Not just hitting it harder, but (also with) precision, which type of serve, etc.
I think my biggest strength is my will and my fight and my love for tennis.
Sportskeeda: Can you tell us a little bit more about your support team and the people that are a part of it?
Holger Rune: I think I mentioned in the beginning how much my parents have meant to me. Not directly in regard to my tennis, but to me as an individual. They supported my dreams and without that support, what I do today would not be possible.
My sister Alma is my best friend. She is the best. I can talk to her about everything and because she played tennis herself, she understands the emotions in the game and lifestyle. She is very smart also. So I respect her very much. When it's possible, she sometimes comes along at tournaments.
Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, I am often only allowed one team member and that is my coach - Lars Christensen. He was my coach in the local club when I started tennis at the age of 6.
Lars noticed my passion and kept working with me even when we changed to a bigger club. He also travels with me to my tournaments, and plays a very important role in my team.
Hopefully, this (year) will be more normal because I actually like traveling with both my coach and my mother, and having my sister be able to come on and off.
My father doesn’t travel with me. I think it became my mother because she was the one driving me to practice when I was little; it was natural that she continued with me.
I like that my mother is traveling with me because my coach does the tennis stuff and my mother is just really good to talk to if I am nervous or sad or angry or just to hang out with.
Sportskeeda: How do you spend your time away from tennis when you are not training or practicing?
Holger Rune: I am with my family when I have the time. I go to the cinema or watch movies with my sister. I have a big family on both my mother's and father's side, so we often get together for dinners, etc. - which has not possible in the past year due to COVID-19.
Sportskeeda: You have been training at the Mouratoglou Academy in France, where several established players train too. Can you tell us about your experience at the academy?
Holger Rune: It's really great going there to practice. As you mentioned earlier, Denmark is not a big tennis nation and we just don’t have top 100 players. We have one top 200 player, but he lives in the USA. So it's important for me to be able to come and practice at a place where there are good players.
The Mouratoglou Academy has many good players and it's also close to Monaco, where many tennis players live and practice. There is a very good atmosphere at the academy. It's like a family.
Sometimes I travel a lot and do not have the option to drop by for months. But whenever I come back it's like I have been there yesterday. It's very much like my second home.
I was there in January, and had many good practices with (Daniil) Medvedev and also Felix (Auger-Aliassime). And when (Stefanos) Tsitsipas and (Alexei) Popyrin are there, I also practice with them. I have practiced with (Alexander) Zverev in Monaco also.
And it's all very inspiring to me - the way they work, their dedication, but also their personalities. They are cool guys.
Sportskeeda: You reportedly started out as a Rafael Nadal fan, but in recent interviews, you have stated you would like to follow in the footsteps of Roger Federer. What do you think now about these two legends?
Holger Rune: I am a huge fan of both. I am also interested in the new generation actually. I think matches with Zverev, Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Rublev are very interesting to watch.
But you cannot take the fight (away) from Rafael Nadal. He is the most inspiring tennis player ever with regard to fight.
Actually, Nadal was my first idol. I had posters of him everywhere in my room when I was 6. I was dressed as Nadal in all practices, with sleeveless shirts and bandana, and even played with Babolat (racket).
Then I played in a tournament, I think I was 7, with foam balls. And I came second and had a small trophy, whereas the winner had a big one.
It hurt so much to lose that final, I refused to accept the trophy. And I was so angry, that I went home and took all the posters of Nadal down and said 'I only want to be No. 1'.
I asked if I could have Roger Federer up instead, because at the time he was No. 1 and Nadal No. 2. So Federer came up instead, and I watched all his matches and changed my racket and outfit.
I think these players inspired so many young players like myself when I was little and hopefully, me and some of the other players on tour can inspire the younger generation as well. As a kid you have idols, and they are, besides your passion for the sport, also the fuel for your drive to become better.
When I was little, I could get very upset when missing a shot and my coach always told me, 'You are not Federer yet, and even he misses'. But they put up an example both in regards to the fight and the style and perfection, which indirectly become a goal to achieve for yourself.