A year ago, Holger Rune retired mid-match to the 172nd-ranked player in the world and couldn’t even make it into the main draw of the Miami Open Masters 1000 tournament.
Later that year, the Danish teen went on a two-month, magical run winning three titles, including the prestigious Paris Masters 1000 where he became the first player since the ATP began in 1990 to earn five top-10 wins, capping it off with a victory over 22-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic in the final.
Suddenly, the top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz isn’t the only 19-year-old wunderkind in tennis.
After seeing his meteoric rise in the rankings from 103rd at the end of 2021 to his current No. 8, Rune had no problem making his Miami Open main-draw debut this week. On a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Rune advanced into the Round of 16 with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over diminutive baseline basher Diego Schwartzman on a packed Butch Buchholz court.
Unlike the charismatic, mature Alcaraz, Rune gives off a Nick Kyrgios volatile vibe. Still sporting the backward ball cap, spiking rackets, questioning the electric line calls and exchanging wisecracks with veteran great Stan Wawrinka, who had called him a, “baby on the court,” after losing to him in the aforementioned Paris Masters.
Upon losing to Wawrinka — a three-time Grand Slam champion now on the downslide at 37 — at Indian Wells a few weeks ago, Rune shook the Swiss star’s hand at net, and said, “You’ve got nothing to say now?”
“[Like Carlos], they are young and don’t think so much when they play, that’s a huge advantage to play without thinking and with no fear,’’ said Schwartzman, who has dropped from eighth in 2020 to 38th. “For sure he’s going to be on the top for many years.”
Rune also got into a verbal spat with Casper Ruud during a French Open quarterfinal last June in which the soft-spoken Norwegian later said, “It might be time to grow up a bit.”
Rune doesn’t accept the “bad-boy” label and said that Wawrinka started it.
“I’m a passionate guy and wouldn’t consider myself a bad guy,’’ said Rune, who has worked with renowned coach Patrick Mouratoglou for years, as well as Lars Christensen. “You can’t be great at something if you’re not obsessed. … My mother’s advice was attitude with passion or not at all.”
Defeating Djokovic in a huge tournament did wonders for his ego and cemented his place in Denmark as the greatest male tennis player ever, right beside one of his close supporters, former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.
“I believed it before but now it was a reality, so it gives me more confidence,’’ he said. “It’s great to see what [Alcaraz] is doing at such a young age. … Everybody has their own pace and path and I’m working on mine.”
With Heat forward Jimmy Butler watching, Alcaraz breezed past Serbian Dujan Lajovic 6-0 in the first set but failed to serve it out at 5-4. He did win the tiebreak on his fourth match point 7-6 (7-5), to keep his Sunshine Double sweep alive.
“It’s never easy to end a match,’’ said Alcaraz, joining the Sweet 16. “The nerves came out.”
Rune will next play top-ranked American Taylor Fritz for the first time after the ninth-seed dispatched Denis Shapovalov 6-4, 6-4. Fritz never faced a break point and played a clean match with 14 winners and just eight unforced errors to the left-handed Canadians’ 17.
“I can move a lot better and return better than I used to,’’ Fritz said of his overall improvement. “There’s a Plan B to fall back on if being aggressive and attacking isn’t working. … Playing Holger in a Round of 16 is pretty tough. I’m excited for it. There will be a lot of big hitting.”
Fritz’s pal Tommy Paul, another 25-year-old American playing with confidence, particularly after his semifinal berth in the Australian Open, blasted past Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-3, 7-5. Paul extended his winning streak over Spaniards to 12 matches, including Rafael Nadal and Alcaraz, his next opponent.
“I’m serving much better,’’ said Paul, ranked a career-high 18th, partially due to his first serve speed increasing from 113 mph to 122 mph. Paul, who lives in Boca Raton, had just seven unforced errors to Fokina’s 26, including six untimely double faults.
Sixth-seeded Russian Andrey Rublev surrendered three games in a win over Serbian Miomir Kecmanovic, while No. 3 Ruud and No. 10 Jannik Sinner were scheduled for the evening card.
Fourth seed Daniil Medvedev advanced to the Round of 16 because his next opponent, Alex Molcan, withdrew with a hip injury.
Prior to the evening matches, all of the men’s top 10 seeds are still alive, while the women have lost seven of its top-10 seeds.
That bodes well for resurgent Canadian Bianca Andreescu, whose 31st ranking belies her skill level, as evident from her 6-4, 6-4 victory over Sofia Kenin, who similarly to Andreescu is on the comeback trail from injuries after winning their solo Grand Slam at young ages.
Since winning the Australian Open in 2020, Kenin has dropped from No. 4 to 235th and is now 164th.
“I had the [drive] again, but after the ankle [injury] and COVID obviously didn’t help. but I feel like I didn’t have enough matches last year so that didn’t help, but now playing a full year I’ve been finding it and playing better and better,’’ said Kenin, 24, who grew up in nearby Pembroke Pines, but now lives in Miami.
Ninth-seeded Belinda Bencic was beaten 7-6 (10-8), 6-3 by 18th-ranked Ekaterina Alexandrova.