In September, Holger Rune, ranked 6th in the world, faced a player ranked over 100 places below him. This was his seventh consecutive defeat, two months after reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. Earlier in the year, he had defended his title in Munich and reached the final of two Masters 1000 tournaments (Monte Carlo and Rome).
Thiago Monteiro emerged victorious in the third set of the Davis Cup rubber with a score of 6-2. Rune, who is considered one of the most promising players in men’s tennis alongside Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, appeared exhausted both physically and mentally. As a result, he went on to suffer three losses in his next four matches, marking a disappointing end to his late-summer performance with a total of 10 losses out of 11 matches.
Despite finding some stability at the Swiss Open with his first consecutive victories since winning SW19, there were still concerning indications last week as Rune attempted to defend his most significant career title at the Paris Masters – the final prestigious tournament before the ATP Finals. However, the 20-year-old’s impressive performance, where he fought hard in a close three-set quarter-final defeat to eventual champion Novak Djokovic, proved to be a pivotal moment. His resurgent display in an exciting rematch of last year’s final was a standout moment at Paris-Bercy.
Rune’s new coach, Boris Becker, has also stepped into the spotlight. Becker, a renowned six-time grand slam champion and former BBC commentator for Wimbledon, is making a comeback after serving eight months in a UK prison for bankruptcy fraud. With Becker and Rune on the same team, two of the most dynamic and unpredictable personalities in tennis come together, creating a duo of mischief-makers.
Rune was uncertain about hiring a new coach. Patrick Mouratoglou, who had enthusiastically supported Rune at the Paris Masters the previous year, left the Rune camp after the player’s early exit at the US Open. This was accompanied by claims from Rune’s mother, Aneke, of conflicting egos between Mouratoglou and her son’s longtime mentor, Lars Christensen.
Mouratoglou, who could be described as the opposite of someone who is shy and retiring, has come back to stand by his former colleague, Simona Halep. Halep is currently facing accusations of doping, which Mouratoglou has taken responsibility for and publicly expressed remorse over this week. The mother of Rune, a young tennis player, had indicated a preference for her son’s coach to be the more modest but well-respected and controversy-free Christensen, who has been part of the family’s team for 14 years.
Christensen has spent weeks rehabilitating Rune’s back, a recurring and painful bulging disc issue, that copious amounts of Ibuprofen and tweaks to serving technique failed to fix. Along with the internal squabbles, the chronic injury seemed to be behind the catastrophic series of results. (Other fans, probably unfairly, blamed his budding relationship with a glamorous model girlfriend.)
In sports, it is common for players to experience periods of low performance. Prior to his recent success, Rune had a streak of seven losses. He was able to break this streak by defeated a lackadaisical Benoît Paire. During his current struggling period, he only managed to win against Felix Auger-Aliassime, another young player who was also struggling but has since improved.
The highlight of last week, possibly even more than the victories and improved mobility, was the resurgence of Rune’s competitive drive: the frequent celebratory shake of the racquet and determination shown through gritted teeth after executing backhand down-the-line winners or clever back-behind volleys at the net; the artistic touch that fans are familiar with from the young talent, but had been absent in recent times.
There was a noticeable change. In accordance with Becker’s plans to reduce distractions, Rune’s signature backwards cap and chains were no longer worn. He instead appeared on the court in a somber all-black outfit, resembling Johnny Cash in sneakers. (However, the cap has since made a comeback.)
Djokovic, who worked with Becker through a highly successful 2013-2016, said he had spotted his former coach playing chess with his new charge – something Becker introduced in their own partnership to promote “focus and mental clarity”.
The German expressed his joy in returning to the tour and shared with Eurosport that he felt “honored” to have been invited. He also mentioned that he sees similarities between himself and Rune in terms of their dedication and attitude on the court. Becker, who holds the record for being the youngest male to win Wimbledon at the age of 17, understands the challenges of fame at a young age.
Rune has expressed gratitude towards Becker, whom he initially encountered as a talented junior, for aiding him in “breaking a cycle of negativity”. He stated that he has implemented “multiple adjustments” in his gameplay. “I have managed to recover from a position of near defeat, where I was consistently losing in the first round, to reaching my peak performance in a significant match against Novak,” he stated.
The duo, accompanied by Rune’s personal trainer Lapo Becherini, will get ready for the ATP Finals in Turin starting on Sunday. Rune, who earned the final qualifying spot after making a comeback, will participate in the event for the first time after being a reserve last year. Winning the title might be too ambitious at this stage of his recovery, but Rune is optimistic about finishing the season on a positive note.
There is a concern regarding Becker. He is currently prevented from traveling to the UK due to a deportation order stemming from his fraud conviction, which raises doubt about his attendance at Wimbledon. However, the overall mood is positive as one of the most exciting new talents in the sport has returned. The only requirement is that he is permitted to continue wearing his cap.