The new Next Gen

For years everyone has been wondering if we will ever see the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer again. Well, after the 2022 edition of the Rolex Paris Masters, it seems as if we will.

Holger Rune Carlos Alcaraz Rolex Paris Masters 2022©Julien Crosnier / FFT
 - Alix Ramsay

Holger Rune’s sensational run through the draw, from fending off three match points against Stan Wawrinka in the first round to beating Djokovic 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the final,  announced his arrival as a bona fide contender for any of the major prizes on the tour. Djokovic was the fifth top 10 player he had dispatched in swift succession. No man has ever done that before.

Felix Auger-Aliassime, Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe each made a case for themselves to be considered as possible big champions of the future but Rune was the man to watch. You could not take your eyes off him as he headed for the trophy.

Holger Rune Rolex Paris Masters 2022©Julien Crosnier / FFT

At the age of 19, he has barged his way into the world’s top 10 and joins his old doubles partner from their junior days, Carlos Alcaraz, in the elite of the elite. The last time two 19-year-olds were in the top 10 was in 2007 when a certain N. Djokovic and A. Murray joined the upper tier of the sport – and their careers turned out just fine.

Rune was brilliant in Bercy; he was brave and he was unwavering in his belief that he could beat anyone. When he served for the title, he had to save seven break points as Djokovic heaped more and more pressure on the young man’s racket. He described the Serb as “cold on every return” – this was Djokovic in championship mode. But the Dane was not thinking that the match could slip away from him; he was just telling himself that he should prepare for the possibility of a tiebreak. He has no fear.

The victory did leave Rune with one problem, though: he had to rearrange his travel plans. He was due to play in the Next Gen Finals in Milan, starting on Tuesday, but by moving up to No.10, he also qualified as the first alternate for the Nitto ATP Finals in Turin. Hotels needed to be booked and flights needed to be changed.

Alcaraz, the current world No.1, will not be joining him there. The world No.1 and US Open champion pulled an abdominal muscle in his quarter-final with Rune on Friday and 24 hours later announced that his season was over. The injury will take six weeks to heal. That leaves the race for the year-end No.1 ranking open as the top eight men in the world make their way to Italy.

 Alcaraz is 1,000 points ahead of Nadal and 1,470 ahead of Stefanos Tsitsipas. And there are 1,500 points available to the undefeated champion in Turin. The Greek has won the finals before; Nadal has lost in the final twice. When Tsitsipas won in 2019, the only man he lost to was Nadal (in the round robin phase). And when Nadal reached both finals, he won all his matches leading up to the showdown which earned him 1,000 ranking points. The race, then, for the year-end No.1 is very much alive.

However, Djokovic will want to have something to say about the final destination of those points and that title. He has won the end-of-season showcase five times although his last title was in 2015. But after missing all the tournaments in Australia and the United States this year, he is desperate to make up for lost time. And of all the men in Turin, no one knows how to win the ATP Finals better than Djokovic.