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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, May 30, 2022

Holger Rune

Nineteen-year-old Holger Rune shocked Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to make history as the first Danish man to reach the Roland Garros quarterfinals.

Photo credit: Getty

Skid marks scarred the red clay like routes marking a major map.

A driven Holger Rune took a historic trek across the terre battue shocking Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to become the first Danish man to reach the Roland Garros quarterfinals.

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Playing with poise in just his third career Grand Slam appearance, Rune overcame closing jitters and the 2021 French Open finalist to make history as the first Danish man to advance to the last eight in a major since Jan Leschly did it at the 1967 US Championships.

"It was a great feeling for me and it was a big match," Rune said. "Very tough first two sets, and then I kind of relaxed a bit more and played really great today, very aggressive, taking my chances. Of course at the end was a bit tight, but I think I managed very well."

Teens are taking over the terre battue.

The 19-year-old Rune joins 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz as the second teenager through to the last eight.

How rare is that?

The last time two teens made quarterfinals at the same major was 28 years ago when 19-year-olds Hendrik Dreekmann and Andrei Medvedev did it at the 1994 Roland Garros. Tsitsipas has been victimized by teen sensations twice in his last three Slams as Alcaraz knocked the Greek out of the US Open last summer.

"I have strong belief in myself that if I really focus and play my tennis, I can beat almost everybody," Rune said. "You know, I was mainly just taking each match at a time...

"If I play my tennis, I believe I'm capable of beating almost everybody on the tour. But also, I really have to be in the moment, because if not, everybody can also beat me. So it's really about just staying focused and focus mostly on the tennis, yeah."

The 40th-ranked Rune will take on fellow trailblazer Casper Ruud for a semifinal spot.

Setting aside Rune vs. Ruud may be the most challenging chair umpire announcing task since former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki faced Alexsandra Wozniak five times in 2009, it’s a celebration of Scandinavian tennis in Paris.

The eighth-seeded Ruud repelled Hubert Hurkacz 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to make history of his own as the first Norwegian to make the Roland Garros quarterfinals. Miami Open finalist Ruud raised his 2022 record to 28-9, including a 19-5 clay-court mark.

Think about what Rune’s achieved in Paris. The teen who finished 2021 ranked No. 103 has now knocked out two Top 15 seeds—Rune swept 14th-seeded Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 6-1, 7-6(4) in his opener—winning 12 of the 13 sets he’s played in Paris.

"Well he's young, he plays with a lot of emotion," Tsitsipas said of Rune. "One-of-a-kind of an opponent I would say. Like, very emotional opponent, always seems like something's bothering him when he plays. Actually that's how I saw it..

"He is a very emotional player, he can play great, he absolutely deserves this victory, played better, faced crucial tough moments better. But I can see something different next time with this opponent. I'm pretty convinced I can do way better."

Two-time Monte-Carlo champion Tsitsipas was widely regarded as a favorite to return to the Roland Garros final from the bottom half the draw. So what went wrong today?

The 23-year-old Greek, who carried a 17-3 clay-court record into the fourth round, could not consistently crack Rune’s serve.

Though the teenager is not a massive server—Rune’s average second serve speed today was a pedestrian 79 mph, which is four miles an hour slower than Veronika Kudermetova’s average second-serve speed in her fourth-round win over Madison Keys today—Tsitsipas converted just three of eight break-point chances. Rune hit only four aces in a three-hour match, but defended his second serve as effectively as the 6’4” Greek did.

"I think it's difficult to deny that I was trying to return from really far back on his serves. He serves good, but he's not John Isner," Tsitsipas said. "But again, psychologically that really drowned me. Once I missed a few or wasn't making it deep enough, he kind of found that pattern and was reading it really well, executing some, being able to bring out some good shots and feeling comfortable.

"I mean there was nothing he should be bothered, he should feel that bothers him when things like this come pretty easy, I guess, from my side. I wasn't really applying a lot of pressure, it was ridiculous at a point."

Twenty-four minutes into the match, Rune took the gloves off drilling Tsitsipas with a body blow. Though Rune helped up a hand in apology, Tsitsipas turned his back and shook off the shot holding with a clenched fist for 4-3.

Deadlocked at 5-all, Tsitsipas attacked behind a fine backhand down the line. Rune read it and rolled a topspin forehand crosscourt leaving Tsitsipas lunging at air. That superb strike left Rune leaping in celebration landing with the break and a 6-5 lead.

A clever backhand drop shot off the sideline gave Rune double set point. A framed return set Tsitsipas up for a short forehand he hit down the line to save a second set point.

Deploying the dropper again, Rune dragged Tsitsipas forward. The Greek made a slick flick to extend the point, but Rune rapped a forehand down the line for set point. This time, the teenager danced forward and drilled a smash to snatch a one-set lead after 59 minutes.

Confronting a love-40 triple break point deficit at the start of the second set, Tsitsipas stood tall. The lanky Greek used a drop shot winner and crackling forehand to dig out of the deficit, firing through five points in a row in holding for 2-1.

Rune’s rock-solid two-handed backhand helped him craft a one-set lead—and Tsitsipas attacking that wing helped him snatch the second set.

The teenager missed a backhand and bounced his yellow-and-black Babolat racquet off the clay in disgust handing Tsitsipas the break and a 5-3 lead. Tsitsipas jumped all over the Dane’s dip slashing his fifth ace to seize the second set after 99 minutes of play.

A racquet change seemed to send Tsitsipas’ serve off kilter. The 2021 runner-up clanked a couple of double faults then sprayed a forehand gifting Rune the break and a 4-2 third-set lead.

The fourth-seeded Greek yanked a mid-court forehand wide as Rune confirmed the break for 5-2.

Serving for the set, Rune hit his second double fault to drop to 15-30. The 19-year-old Dane dug in and spun a series of forehands that sent Tsitsipas on the defensive finally forcing an error to take a two-sets to one lead.

In danger of falling into an early break hole, Tsitsipas turned up the sting on his drives denying three break points to cap a seven-and-a-half minute hold for a 2-1 fourth-set lead.

Two games later, Rune was amping up the electricity on his drives to stunning effect. Tsitsipas hit a 130 mph serve down the T, but Rune reflexed back a backhand that dislodged a clump of clay when it landed giving the Dane the break and a 3-2 lead.

Consolidation came with a challenge, but Rune met it. Wrong-footing Tsitsipas with a forehand behind him, Rune rapped his two-hander down the line confirming the break for 4-2 as his mom, Aneke, offered a clenched fist to her son from the support box.

A rattled Tsitsipas couldn’t slow the teenager’s roll. Rune earned the double break in the seventh game.

When Rune first served for the quarterfinal at 5-2, he tightened up and Tsitsipas turned his shoulders into his shots streaking through nine straight points to cut the gap to 4-5.

Tension tightened as Rune served for it again. This time, Rune raked his 19th backhand winner that helped him go up 30-15. Pinned his backhand corner, Rune had a look at his favored backhand down the line, but missed it wide to face break point. Drilling a diagonal forehand, Rune saved break point. Rune repelled a second break point skidding as serve off the service line then pumped his fourth ace down the T denying a third break point.

That ace empowered Rune who went toe-to-toe with Tsitsipas drawing one final error to hit his way into history.


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