The childhood ‘frenemies’ pursuing Wimbledon glory – Maxsports
May 15, 2024

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The childhood ‘frenemies’ pursuing Wimbledon glory

They were childhood friends who were born less than a week apart and grew up on the tennis scene together.

Now Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune will be putting their friendship aside – albeit temporarily – as they prepare to fight it out at Wimbledon today in pursuit of glory.

The pair are the first men aged under 21 in the Open Era to face each other in a quarter-final at SW19, in  a clash likely to be as dramatic for today’s spectators as for the two athletes.

Meeting on the tennis circuit when they were in their early teens, the pair played against each other as they grew up on the sporting scene. At the age of 14, they even battled it out as a doubles pair at Les Petit As – a prestigious junior tennis tournament where infamous players including Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray battled it out in their youth.

In a resurfaced clip of their youth doubles career the friendship is palpable. As they win shot after shot with a combination of slamming volleys and cunning drop shots, they grin and congratulate each other between every point. Moving in flowing unison, the pair unload a barrage of shots against their overwhelmed opponents.

But meeting for the first time on the professional scene in Milan in 2021, the pair did not hold back. A well-fought match, each held their own as Alcaraz eventually took down Rune in three successive sets, the game still concluded in a friendly recognition.

Holger Rune of Denmark and Carlos Alcaraz of Spain embrace during a training session on Day One of the cinch Championships at The Queen's Club on June 19, 2023

Holger Rune of Denmark and Carlos Alcaraz of Spain embrace during a training session on Day One of the cinch Championships at The Queen’s Club on June 19, 2023 

In a resurfaced clip of their youth doubles career the friendship is palpable. As they win shot after shot with a combination of slamming volleys and cunning drop shots

In a resurfaced clip of their youth doubles career the friendship is palpable. As they win shot after shot with a combination of slamming volleys and cunning drop shots 

Moving in flowing unison, the pair unload a barrage of shots against their overwhelmed opponents

Moving in flowing unison, the pair unload a barrage of shots against their overwhelmed opponents 

Meeting again in Paris, it was Rune who got the better of Alcaraz after the top seed retired.

Rune – speaking after his win over Grigor Dimitrov on Monday – said that he had been looking forward to facing off against Alcaraz since the first round of the tournament.

Ranked sixth in the world, the 20-year-old Dane said: ‘It shows that the young player are doing a great job so for me it is cool, for him it is also cool. To be able to play quarter final against a player that’s your same age and at the top of the ranking feels amazing so I’m really looking forward to that match.

‘I even looked at it when I was in the first round but I couldn’t really afford to look at it because there were so many matches before this would eventually happen. But now we are here, so I’m really pumped and excited for it.’

Talking about their shared youth, he added: ‘He’s always been a very passionate player on the court with a lot of energy, a big forehand also in juniors – I think he is the same just so much better now.

‘Back then he was Carlos, now he is Carlos! He is the same just improveda lot and very quickly. We played doubles one time in Les Petit As and hopefully we can do it again – but now first we are going to battle against each other!’

Spain's Carlos Alcaraz returns to Italy's Matteo Berrettini

Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz returns to Italy’s Matteo Berrettini

Holger Rune of Denmark

Holger Rune of Denmark 

There was genuine warmth in the way they spoke of each other, but that friendship is likely to be tested in the fires of competition over the next 15 or so years.

A glance at the numbers this fortnight gets us no closer to picking a winner. First serves in: Rune 63 per cent, Alcaraz 63. First serve points won: 78 per cent vs 79 per cent. The Dane has hit 57 forehand winners and 25 on the backhand; the Spaniard has 60 and 24.

Speaking at the post-match press conference after beating Matteo Berrettini yesterday, first seed Alcaraz said he was looking forward to facing off against his old friend.

The Spanish 20-year-old said: ‘I’m really excited about this match. We’ve shared a lot of great moments, we’ve played together since we were 12 years old. We know really well eachother. I’m really excited about it and I think he’s the same. I remember when we were 11 or 12, I think that is the first time when I saw him at a tournament in Majorca. In that tournament we played the first time together – I remember really clearly.’

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain practicing at Wimbledon on July 11, 2023

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain practicing at Wimbledon on July 11, 2023

Denmark's Holger Rune serves the ball to Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov

Denmark’s Holger Rune serves the ball to Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov 

Holger Rune with his mother, Aneke, who he hails as 'a huge influence' on him

Holger Rune with his mother, Aneke, who he hails as ‘a huge influence’ on him

As world No 1 with a major title already under his belt at last year’s US Open, Alcaraz starts as favourite.

He has greater variety to his game: watch out for razor sharp volleying and a drop shot which is close to impossible to read, so late does he adjust his grip to cut under the ball.

But Rune is a little more solid and will look to rally backhand to backhand as much as possible.

The two players summarised the match-up rather well when each was asked what shot he would like to borrow from the other. Rune demurred at first, insisting he was happy with every aspect of his game, but when pushed he plumped for Alcaraz’s forehand drop shot.

Alcaraz said: ‘If I have to take some weapon from him, I’m going to say the backhand. I’m not saying that my backhand is bad… but he has a great backhand.’