Tennis-Quest for perfection may be double-edged sword for Grand Slam hunter Rune

By Thomson Reuters Feb 12, 2024 | 10:25 PM

By Shrivathsa Sridhar

BENGALURU (Reuters) – Holger Rune’s talent and drive are undoubted but the Dane remains something of a rough diamond heading into the meat of the 2024 season while fellow young guns Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner have sparkled their way to major titles.

Observers of men’s tennis have developed something of an obsession with promising young talent as the sport negotiates the twilight of a golden era dominated by Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal.

Rune thrust himself into the conversation as a teenager in 2022 by winning three titles, including a first Masters crown in Paris after beating four top-10 players and getting past Djokovic in the final.

Now 20, Rune has made three Grand Slam quarter-final appearances but his former junior sparring partner Alcaraz has already captured two majors while Sinner won his first at the Australian Open last month.

Rune ended his short coaching relationship with six-times major winner Boris Becker after his second-round loss to French wildcard Arthur Cazaux in Melbourne, saying he needed people around him who “have the same vision and who I can trust to achieve my goals”.

Former player Jeff Greenwald, author of “The Best Tennis of Your Life” and a sports psychology consultant, said Rune may be putting too much pressure on himself.

“Rune has enjoyed some excellent early success and he’s talented, driven and is great defensively. He’s a perfectionist, which is helpful to push himself,” Greenwald told Reuters.

“But I question the level of outcome pressure he puts on himself, contrasted with Alcaraz and Sinner, who seem to be more balanced and developmentally focused.

“Rune has the belief and drive, but perfectionism can be a double-edged sword.”


Rune’s all-court game prompted greats such as Mats Wilander to mark him out as a future Grand Slam winner, but he had a patchy 2023, losing the Rome and Monte Carlo finals with his only title coming in a minor Munich claycourt event.

That coincided with a string of changes in his coaching set-up, splitting from, then re-engaging, then parting company again from long-time coach Lars Christensen as well as briefly working with Patrick Mouratoglou.

He added Becker to his coaching team last October and reached the season-ending ATP Finals for the first time before enlisting Federer’s former coach Severin Luthi in December.

Both are now gone, with the world number seven giving every impression of a man searching for a silver bullet to turn his huge potential into a consistent world-beating talent.

Florida-based Patrick Cohn, who teaches psychological techniques to professional athletes, believes the coaching changes could actually be making things worse for Rune.

“I will note that changing coaches for Rune must be challenging after having been with one coach for 15 years,” said Cohn, adding that coaching consistency was a key factor in success.

Rune is not alone in failing to translate potential into Grand Slam success.

The major titles have also proved elusive for hugely talented players like Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who were once identified as the coming generation but have now reached their mid-20s without getting over the final hurdle.

Rune remains one of the most sought-after players in the men’s game and was recruited to take part in October’s “Six Kings Slam” exhibition tournament in Saudi Arabia, the only player involved who has not won a Grand Slam.

All major winners have their own journey to the game’s biggest prizes and, less than a year out of his teens, Rune has plenty of time to plot his own pathway to success – even if he might be reluctant to wait.

“It’s what I’ve been working for all of my life, so I’m eager to achieve it,” he said ahead of the Australian Open.

“I believe in myself always when I’m on the court. I feel like I’m ready. If I didn’t believe I was, then for sure it’s not going to happen.”

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru, editing by Nick Mulvenney and Peter Rutherford)