Thursday was a critical day in Holger Rune's chase for a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals.
Not only did two players close to him in the Pepperstone ATP Live Race To Turin — ninth-placed Taylor Fritz and 11th-placed Casper Ruud — lose earlier in the day, but the eighth-placed Rune earned a solid win at the Swiss Indoors Basel. The top seed ousted Sebastian Baez, a winner of three ATP Tour titles this year, 7-6(2), 6-1 to reach the Basel quarter-finals.
“It was difficult in the first set. I think he was serving well. I was struggling a little bit to find the rhythm on the return,” Rune said in his on-court interview. “But I stayed there, I kept my focus on my own serve and managed to raise my level in the tie-break. And from there, I built some better tennis.”
Win No 4️⃣0️⃣ in the bag ✅️????????@holgerrune2003 gets the better of Baez 7-6(2), 6-1 to reach the quarter-finals!
— ATP Tour (@atptour) October 26, 2023
Trailing by a set and a break in his opening match against Miomir Kecmanovic, the Dane was in danger of losing nine of 10 matches and missing an opportunity in the Live Race. But now the 20-year-old, who was an alternate last year in Turin, has a big chance to extend his 135-point lead over Fritz in the Live Race.
Rune will next play Tomas Martin Etcheverry, who needed more than three hours to defeat former World No. 1 Andy Murray on Wednesday. It will be the pair's first Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting.
“I have to prepare well, and hopefully another great match tomorrow,” Rune said.
Rune showed determination against the gritty baseliner Baez, with new coach Boris Becker watching closely from the front row. The four-time ATP Tour titlist saved the only break point he faced and after breaking serve for the first time early in the second set, he did not relent.
Rune won a higher rate of second-serve points (78%) than Baez did first-serve points (68%) and that proved critical. He is now 6-1 in Basel after reaching the final last year.
The player who defeated Rune in that final, Felix Auger-Aliassime, continued his return to form in the last match of the evening. The Canadian eliminated qualifier Botic van de Zandschulp 6-4, 6-2 in 81 minutes.
The sixth-seeded Auger-Aliassime broke serve four times and is into the last eight without losing more than four games in a set. He is trying to successfully defend a title for the first time and will next play qualifier Alexander Shevchenko.