'Djokovic should be considered RG favourite'

Rune says Serb's experience and Slam tally places him ahead of the rest on top contenders list

Holger Rune, first round, Roland-Garros 2023© Julien Crosnier/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

Holger Rune breathed a sigh of relief after he survived a tougher than expected opening match at Roland-Garros on Tuesday, beating American Christopher Eubanks in four sets.

The Dane, many people’s tip to make it through the bottom half of the draw, found himself in a bit of a dogfight with the world No.74, but showed his maturity and found a way to a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-2 win despite never quite hitting his top form.

“Chris, he played well,” the 20-year-old said. “He was serving good, hitting his spots, playing freely. Obviously had nothing to lose. I guess that makes him extra free today. I never played him before, so I had to adjust a little bit.

“But I'm happy with the level I found in the fourth set. I start to play some of my better tennis. Yeah, but just happy to be through.”

Last year, Rune reached the quarter-finals on his debut in the main draw, eventually losing out to Casper Ruud, the Norwegian who went on to reach the final.

Having won the title in Munich and reached the final in Monte-Carlo and Rome, No. 6 seed Rune is one of the favourites for the title in Paris, especially after he was drawn in the opposite half to world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz and 22-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic.

Holger Rune, 1er tour, Roland-Garros 2023 ©Julien Crosnier / FFT

Relaxed and ready

Despite the expectations from outside, Rune said he doesn’t feel any extra pressure to deliver.

“Honestly, not so much,” he said. “I feel like I have done a really good clay-court season so far and I feel like I'm starting to play some of my better tennis in general.

“Today didn't find my best level, but again, Chris, he made it super difficult for me. I had to adjust, as I said, and had to find a solution to beat him. That's the most important.

“Sometimes it's not how you want to play, but it's how it's necessary to play in order to win. That was the case today. And, you know, credit to Chris. He made it super difficult. He was hitting his spots well and serve, mixing up the game a lot, played a great match.”

Christopher Eubanks, Holger Rune, first round, Roland-Garros 2023© Julien Crosnier/FFT

And just because Rafael Nadal is not here because of injury, that doesn’t mean he automatically expects to win the title.

“I think for sure it's more open as Rafa is not here, but again, we still have Novak, we have Alcaraz. I think still Novak must be the favourite as he has 22 Grand Slams and so much experience in these tournaments," said Rune.

“So, for sure it's more open because Rafa has won here 14 times, I think. So he would be the main favourite if he was here. Now I saw Daniil [Medvedev], he lost today. Yeah, anything can happen.”

Rune is not afraid to get under the skin of his opponents or ruffle feathers with the crowd if he feels they’re unfair. He realises one can never be unanimously supported and assures he isn't preoccupied by trying to achieve that.

Holger Rune, first round, Roland-Garros 2023© Julien Crosnier/FFT

“I mean, I think it's normal in life that some people love you and some people don't. I think so, no?” said the 20-year-old.

“Everybody has different preference of characters and players, and I respect that. That's fine. But yeah, it's all right. I mean, you know, if they [the crowd] are for me, it's great.

“I just try to put on a fight every time I step out there on the court. Do my best to win the match. Stay focused. I feel like to do everything I can to win the match is more important than what's happening outside the court.”

Rune plays either Gael Monfils or Sebastian Baez in the second round on Thursday.