Young Dane Holger Rune shocked six-time champion Novak Djokovic to reach the semi-finals at the Italian Open in Rome on Wednesday.
The 20-year-old prevailed 6-2 4-6 6-2 in an epic battle against the defending champion to seal back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 wins against the world No 1.
Djokovic will relinquish the top ranking to Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz before the French Open which starts on May 28, where the Serbian will look to claim a men’s record 23rd Grand Slam title having gone level with Rafael Nadal by winning the Australian Open.
“It’s really a big win for me,” said Rune in his on-court interview. “Obviously I did it last year in Paris as well, but every match is a huge challenge for me when I play against Novak. He’s one of the greatest that’s ever played the game. I knew I had to be at my best and I said it yesterday, and I was today. I’m super proud of myself and I enjoyed every moment out there.
“I stay humble of course. I have a lot to achieve,” the Dane continued. “I think you should always be humble. I think I am, I hope so and I hope people see me this way. I’m a huge fighter on the court and I leave everything when I play my matches. I’m super proud I was able to get the victory today. I had to fight hard and play my best tennis.
“Huge credit to Novak, I’m a big fan of his. He’s a huge inspiration and I wish him all the best.”
The seventh seed showcased his aggressive style and mixed up his game with some delicate drops to race ahead 4-1 as Djokovic looked uncomfortable in between points having admitted a day earlier that he was dealing with a physical issue.
Rune squandered a late breakpoint opportunity but the fast-fading Djokovic could not prevent him from closing out the first set as some sections of the crowd appeared to be in disbelief over the six-time champion’s struggles.
Djokovic took a painkiller midway through the second set and the 35-year-old roared back to life a short while later to go up 5-2 following a break and a hold, as Rune completely lost his cool over a line call by the chair umpire.
Rune, who launched an expletive-laden rant while receiving treatment for a right leg problem, responded with a break of his own but went on to surrender the set following a lengthy break in play due to rain.
Ferocious hitting from both players marked the start of the decider but a dominant Rune pounced on Djokovic’s serve en route to a 4-0 lead and completed a famous win on his own delivery in a rare spell of sunshine.
Holger Rune is the sixth player to win 6+ consecutive matches against a top five opponent this century after Gustavo Kuerten, Andre Agassi, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“I know at the end, when Novak goes into this mode, nothing can come at him and he plays really free and aggressive,” said Rune. “When you want to close the match, it’s really difficult. He puts a lot of pressure on you, but I managed to hit some good shots and stay brave. That was the most important.
“I think I was a little less brave in the second set but after the rain delay, I managed to come out and be brave even though I lost the set. I just told myself, ‘Okay, it’s all right, I just have to keep going’.”