*Djokovic 7-6(4) (1)6-7 1-0 Rune Righto mates, eyes down for the decider, Djokovic to serve first. Real talk, I’m still reeling from how tamely he donated that breaker, but he’s right back at it, holding to love; there’s nothing like a bit of embarrassment to focus the mind.
Djokovic 7-6(4) (1)6-7 Rune Rune nets a forehand, handing Djokovic his first point of the breaker, then a return goes long, and we’ve got waselves the decider Rune, this match and our lives deserve. This is great stuff: Rune has it.
Djokovic 7-6(4) 6-6 Rune (0-6) Superb stuff from Rune, who dictates the next rally, finishing it charing in to unleash a forehand winner, sent hurtling down the line … then Djokovic slaps a careless backhand wide, and this is nearly over! When was the last time we saw this?!
Djokovic 7-6(4) 6-6 Rune (0-4) No way! At the net, Djokovic runs around his forehand, only to dump a simple putaway! There’s yer unforced error, and it cedes the first mini-break at the first time of asking, then a netted forehand hands Rune another! Earlier this year he went 55 straight breaker points without one, now he’s made two on the spin, rune cementing the advantage with an ace!
*Djokovic 7-6(4) 6-6 Rune Djokovic quickly makes 30-0, the ball dying on Djokovic when it hits the line – he does well to adjust and get it back – only for Rune to frame his riposte. But a banging return gives him a glimmer … quickly extinguished via ace … and another ace. You’ve got to laugh, what a ridiculous individual this ridiculous individual is. Can Rune force the issue in the breaker, knowing Djokovic didn’t make a single unforced error in the last one; knowing Djokovic almost always wins them?
Djokovic 7-6(4) 5-6 Rune* Rune shanks a forehand way wide to give Djokovic 15-all, and it’d be typical him to break now; he’s a point closer when a double makes 15-30; p-r-e-s-s-u-r-e. So Rune clobbers down an ace then finds a lovely backhand winner from centre to corner – before handing the ref a ball on which he’s not keen. It doesn’t help, Djokovic dominating the next rally, a longun, before forcing deuce with a forehand winner and this has been a really good contest; not something we say often about matches featuring the goat. Anyroad, Rune wants to take his time before serving again, accepting his warning for running down the clock, then finds himself marooned at the net, doing so well to stick in the point … then Djokovic, expecting a long one gets a short one and he slips! How did rune stay in that point? It looked for a second like the champ was a cert for advantage, but instead he’s now sitting down prior to serving to stay in set two, Rune spiriting a half-volley down the line for a winner.
*Djokovic 7-6(4) 5-5 Rune At change of ends, Rune has some back and forth with the umpire about towels – I think he wants more than he has – then up 15-0, Djokovic surprisingly wipes an inside-out forehand wide … then a loose backhand down the line gives 15-30! Rune is two points away from forcing a decider! Yeah, good luck with that old mate. Djokovic dominates the next point, finishing it with an overhead … but then Rune annihilates a backhand down the line to raise his first set-point! Yeah, about that: a terrific serve out wide quickly extinguishes the opportunity, a forehand then a backhand into the same corner make advantage, and when Rune goes long the hold is secure. Djokovic is harder to kill than Rasputin.
Djokovic 7-6(4) 4-5 Rune* Djokovic quickly makes 0-15, but very shortly afterwards, a service-winner down the T and it’s 30-15; in the crowd, one of those big tennis balls explodes, then another service-winner down the T raises two game-points; he takes the second when Djokovic nets a return, and this set is right in the balance.
*Djokovic 7-6(4) 4-4 Rune Oh man! Djokovic’s volley to the corner isn’t good enough but Rune’s riposte – a forehand pass cross-court, on the run, is colossal and makes 15-all. Then, at 30-15, a big return is backed up by a succession of violent forehands … so Djokovic plays a gorgeous volley, then spanks an ace down the middle. He is quite good at tennis, and the pressure is back on Rune.
Djokovic 7-6(4) 3-4 Rune* Rune bashes down an ace for 40-0, then another monster secures his hold, and the pressure is back on the champ – and, as we zoom in on him at change of ends, we note yet again that his hairline is even more impressive than his tennis.
*Djokovic 7-6(4) 3-3 Rune A love-hold, including an ace, gives Rune no respite, but he’s still serving pretty well so Djokovic will have to do something decent to break him.
Djokovic 7-6(4) 2-3 Rune* Up 30-15, Rune gives Djokovic a look art a second serve … but still hits it hard, and the return flies long. A better effort, though, landing near the baseline, forces the error … so Rune bangs down an ace to secure a huge hold.
*Djokovic 7-6(4) 2-2 Rune Djokovic slams down a serve for 15-0, then a return soars long, and already you wonder if that last game was the beginning of the end. At 40-0, though, Rune finds a sensational forehand winner down the line and on the run, then Djokovic nets a backhand; at 40-30, there’s a glimmer. Quickly extinguished via big serve and perfunctory putaway. This next game is a biggun.
Djokovic 7-6(4) 1-2 Rune* Djokovic thinks he’s landed one on to the line but it’s called out and shown to be out on challenge; next point, he chases down a drop and curves a forehand winner cross-court for 30-all. But from the corner, he sends a backhand wide … then makes deuce when Rune hands him a double. Ach, a tame backhand into the net then presents Djokovic with advantage – in comms, they think he needs to calm himself – and he responds with an ace. No matter: Djokovic lands a ball onto the baseline, Rune’s certain it’s well out, challenges … and the fuzz must’ve been mohican, because it’s outermost fibre is on the paint! Advantage Djokovic, who dominates the next rally, a long, brutal expletive, but he can’t finish it, and a murderous forehand down the line brings Rune back to deuce! Djokovic, though, isn’t arsed, hauling Rune to the net where he doesn’t do enough with his first volley, so is passed in short order; break point number three coming up! AND THERE IT IS! A fine return puts Djokovic in control of the rally and a forehand winner has him noising up the crowd, making sure Rune knows exactly what he’s just done. Again, the break-back is immediate.
*Djokovic 7-6(4) 0-2 Rune Rune comes in again and Djokovic nets a forehand for 15-30; when you’re playing him, this constitutes a chance. And now it really does! Another error from the champ, this time on the backhand, and here comes a break point; you get the feeling Rune can’t afford to spurn this – or, indeed, have it spurned for him – AND HE DOESN’T! Another blinding forehand return is too good, far too good, and that’s the break! But can he hold onto it this time?
Djokovic 7-6(4) 0-1 Rune* Rune returns and we learn that Djokovic took the breaker without making a single unforced error; of course he did. But the kid is straight back into stride, holding to 15.
Rune steps out of court. When he returns, he’ll find that he’s still a set down, and the man on the other side of the net is still Novak Djokovic.
Rune saves one set-point, but a blistering forehand return sizzles cross-court, and this is going exactly as we expected it to. Djokovic’s durability and temperament are just off the scale.
Djokovic 6-6 Rune (6-3) Rune comes in behind a second serve – he’s doing all he can to force the pace – and Djokovic batters away from the back till he finds the pass for the double-mini. This set is almost over, but as I type Rune seizes back one break then gets a look at a second serve … but when it really really matters, Djokovic ups the pace and he goes at it hard, the return landing long; three set-points coming up.
Djokovic 6-6 Rune (4-2) Djokovic is 28-6 on breakers for the season and won in Paris without losing one, but he’s quickly behind here when Rune coaxes a backhand winner down the line; the mini-break is snatched back immediately. Then, at 2-2 Rune slaps a backhand just wide – that was a chance – and you know what’s coming next: another wide backhand and Djokovic has the mini-break. After an hour 15 of hard yakka, Rune is about to see it all go to waste.
Djokovic 6-6 Rune* Ooooh! Djokovic is a cunning bounder, sending a lob back down the line early, when Rune thought he’d chase it; the ball drops long, just. Djokovic, though, finds a lob of his own that gives him 15-30 and again, he’s two points away from the set, but Rune quickly levels the game and a forehand swiped wide takes him a point away from a breaker; a big serve down the middle, a netted return, and here it comes! Djokovic is alright at those…
We’re in Turin for this match, more than enough excuse for me to insist you don’t miss the below from Milan:
*Djokovic 6-5 Rune A glorious lob makes 15-0, an ace on to the line 30-0. But then at 40-15, Rune hits a booming forehand to the corner, then skids in to cut a backhand volley drop from below the level of the net; Djokovic can only applaud and we move to deuce. However a serve out wide then facilitates the putaway, and a big first server elicits the netted return; Rune must now hold for first-set breaker.
*Djokovic 5-5 Rune At change of ends, the ump tells Djokovic to keep an eye on how long he’s taking to serve, and Djokovic complains he cant’t see the shot-clock properly; they sort of agree the point. And, in fairness, it’s not like this is a complaint Djokovic has fielded before. Back on court, Djokovic quickly makes 0-30 so, two points away from losing the set, Rune is under pressure; he’s not bothered. First, he makes a first serve and a backhand return drops long, halving the deficit, then he comes to the net and steers a backhand volley into the corner. Superb work! And from there, he quickly secures his hold, sealed with an ace.
*Djokovic 5-4 Rune Down 0-40, Rune gets a look at a second serve leaning to his forehand … and slams back a bachkand winner! Then, when Djokovic picks the wrong side at the net, directing his topspin putaway directly at his opponent, the ball’s hurtling back past him before he can draw back his racket. And have a look! Rune outlasts Djokovic in the longest rally of the match so far, 21 strokes, an unforced error handing him deuce, and if he could break here, that really would make a statement. Yeah, just. Djokovic closes out in short order, and this is an excellent contest.
“On a purely statistical basis,” emails Simon McMahon, “Bradman tops the list. But statistics only tell half the story. The other three-quarters are what really matter.”
Djokovic 4-4 Rune* This game is now a test for Rune, and he opens it with an ace down the T, then a Djokovic lob sails long for 40-0 … and an absolutely leaping, supersonic forehand secures the love-hold. Hitting the ball that hard is illegal in some countries.
*Djokovic 4-3 Rune At 30-15, Djokovic decides there’s a ball he doesn’t like, so he gets another and hammers down a winner; his late-career development into one of the great servers is a ridiculous wrinkle in an already totally ridiculous career, and similar delivery secures the game. The champ is back in front.
Djokovic 3-3 Rune* Djokovic quickly makes 0-30 but Rune finds a lush drop to halve the arrears, then a big serve out wide levels things. A double, though, takes us to deuce, then a netted volley from below the tape hands over a break-back point; a weak drop completes the deal and who, apart from everyone, saw that coming? I wonder how many times in his career Djokovic has broken back immediately; my guess would be more than any other player.
“PS” returns Richard Hirst, “And if you want the statistical best, how about Jahangir Khan, with 555 straight victories?”
I remember when he lost to Jansher – as I do when the supremely-named Danny Harris beat Edwin Moses after 102 consecutive wins.
*Djokovic 2-3 Rune Down 0-15, Djokovic flicks an oblique backhand across the face of the net, flicks the cord, and lands the ball on the line; the dominates, the luckier he gets. But Rune then punishes back a second serve – he’s attacking that at every opportunity – and when Djokovic nets a backhand, he has two break points! Djokovic, obviously, quickly saves both, the second with a classic forehand to corner followed by overhead putaway, then a service-winner raises game-point … only for him to send down a double! Now then! A wafty, floaty volley hands Rune a passing opportunity which he doesn’t turn down, then a shanked forehand cross-court drops wide, and Rune get the break to hit the front! He’s loving this!
“If the GOAT debate is pointless within a sport,” grouses Richard Hirst, “how much more pointless is it between different sports and between different generations? The statistical gap between Don Bradman and the rest is much greater than the statistical gap between Djokovic and Federer/Nadal so you can maybe make a judgment on that. But what about sports where there is no straightforward statistical comparison: in football how do you compare a goalkeeper/defender/attacker? Let’s just enjoy (or in Djokovic’s case fulminate against) the greats on their own terms.”
Why? It’s just a little chat to pass the time.
Djokovic 2-2 Rune* Our courtside reporter notes that Becker’s calmness is radiating to Rune, and the two have a really close relationship; that’s good to hear. Meantime, a forehand winner down the line gives Rune 15-all, then a ball on the line and an ace follow. But when another big serve opens the court, Rune picks the wrong side, leaving Djokovic oceans into which to tap a backhand winner; big point coming up. And just as it looks to be swinging Djokovic’s way, he swipes wide and Rune secures his hold.
*Djokovic 2-1 Rune Up 15-0, Djokovic outhits Rune from the back in precisely the kind of point the young pretender needs to avoid. A serve out wide to the forehand quickly makes 40-0, and though Rune finds a winner to close, a topsoin forehand down the line secures the hold.
Djokovic 1-1 Rune* Though he’s only 20, Rune has beaten every player in the draw this week, and he holds to 15, sealing the game with an ace. This is boiling nicely, or Djokovic eases to a 7-5 6-3 win; definitely one of the two.
“And Carl Lewis and Micheal Johnson?” wonders James Robinson. I’m not sure we can allow Lewis because we’ve got Bolt; we might also omit Johnson on that basis/
*Djokovic 1-0 Rune (*denotes server) Rune begins with a backhand winner down the line, sending Djokovic’s serve hurtling straight back past him, then sticks in the next rally long enough for Djokovic to net. Ahahahaha, for all the good it does him! Djokovic takes the next four points to hold – though Rune is absolutely clubbing it/
Rune is puling up his shorts; Djokovic to serve; and play.
Rune’s shorts are short. I’ve not idea how they’re comfy, but you can’t put a price on style.
Here come our players!
Email! “As a die hard Federer fan,” writes Max Williams, “I accept the debate ended a while ago for tennis. It’s now where does Novak rate in terms of the best sportsperson. Him, Bolt, Bradman, Biles are the names I can think of who are clearly the best to have done it in their respective fields. Sure there are others. Ali still stands alone as the greatest person to have participated in sport which isn’t quite the same.”
Er, Ronnie O’Sullivan, Phil Taylor, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Wayne Gretzky, michael Jordan and Michael Phelps are also in the conversation, I guess.
We’re watching footage of the players warming up, Rune showing off his legs. Djokovic is wearing three different shades of green, like a mid-00s goalie.
In interview. Djokovic notes that mental strength is one of his biggest weapons, rhapsodising a great year and reminding those who’ve forgotten that he won every match he played at this tournament last term. No doubt he’s humbled by all the success he’s had.
Anyone care to tell me what’s going on?
Of how many majors are we stripping him for this monstrosity?
Aha, we’ve got some coverage – previously, we’d been informed the start would be “around 8pm”.
I imagine Rune will be doing everything he can to keep points short, looking for serve plus one: he won’t just want to hit his spot, he’ll want to set up a big forehand for his second shot. Djokovic will do what he usually does, but I imagine he’ll get Rune on the bike then look for winners from the back and the occasional drop.
I wonder if, once Djokovic has turned it in, Rune will be Carlos Alcaraz’s main challenger. Alcaraz doesn’t enjoy playing Sinner, who can also attack him with power, and Rune might move better. We shall see…
Regular readers will be familiar with Coach Calvin Betton, who reckons as follows: “Rune causes Djokovic problems because he’s so aggressive and has a ridiculous self-belief. He’s beaten him a few times. But he’s also not in great form. Imagine Djokovic sees him off, but Rune can hit through him. He hits flat and hard so doesn’t give Djokovic a natural shape of ball that he likes to play off. And most importantly he thinks he’s better than him.”
Evening all and welcome to the ATP Tour finals – day 1! Already today, we’ve enjoyed Jannik Sinner – this blog’s outsider for this title – deal with Stefanos Tsitsipas, and now we’re about to see Holger Rune have a hack at Novak Djokovic.
Rune is, of course, a terrific player and prospect, but perhaps his biggest strength is his unshakeable certainty that he’s the greatest player of all time – a sense that’s unlikely to have been diluted by the appointment of Boris Becker as his coach. So he won’t be fazed by facing the second greatest ever – who needed three sets to beat him in Paris last week – and if Rune’s power-game is working, this will be a really fun match.
Djokovic, though, is, well, Djokovic; how else to describe a unique freak of nature totally unlike anything else ever seen in any sport? Most likely, he repels whatever Rune has to offer, deals with the rest of the field in short order, and ends a three-Slam season by defending this title before chuckling at the mind-boggling extent of his brilliance and humility. But don’t write off Rune: he believes he can do this and if Djokovic isn’t bang at it – yes, yes, I know – he’s a good chance of making something happen.
Play: 9pm local, 8pm GMT