Wawrinka Back In The Win Column In Rome

Stan Wawrinka (photo: Internazionali BNL d’Italia)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 9, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Stan Wawrinka is back in the win column – rolling back the years – and to see him celebrate emphatically after his 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over World No. 17 Reilly Opelka at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Monday afternoon, it was a welcome feeling for him and for tennis fans, too.

The victory by the former World No. 3 and three-time major champion Wawrinka, which started the first full day of play on Foro Italico’s Court Centrale, snapped a five-match losing streak that stretched over the past 15 months. The 37-year-old Swiss star’s last win came at last year’s Australian Open against Pedro Sousa of Portugal. Since then, he’s lost to Marton Fucsovics, Karen Khachanov, Lloyd Harris, Elias Ymer (in a Challenger Tour match) and Alexander Bublik – and his ranking dipped from a year-ending No. 81 to No. 361 after undergoing two foot surgeries last year.

Competing in just his second ATP Tour match of the year, Wawrinka outlasted the 2021 Rome semifinalist Opelka through the two-hour and five-minute first-round match. He hit winners with both precision and power against Opelka and his trademark one-fisted backhand is still a potent weapon and remains a thing of beauty to see.

From down 3-6, 2-4, Wawrinka mounted a second-set comeback and drew even at 4-all by breaking Opelka and consolidating the break. Then, he saved five break points during a lengthy 20-point 10th game and followed it up with a break of his own to win the set. Next, Wawrinka broke Opelka in each of the American’s final two service games and closed out the straight-set victory on an unforced error.

“I was feeling good on the court. Physically I was feeling great,” Wawrinka said after his win. “When you don’t win a match in more than a year, you start to think about it more than what you should and not focus on the right things.

“In general I think it was a great match, great battle. I stayed positive. I start to feel much better with my tennis by the end of the second set, and the third set. I’m really happy with this victory.”

Wawrinka hit eight aces, struck 30 winners and made 25 unforced errors, while Opelka countered with 39 winners – including 14 aces – but committed 34 unforced errors. Wawrinka outpointed his opponent 97-92. Next, he will face 58th-ranked qualifier Laslo Djere of Serbia, who beat 262nd-ranked Borna Coric of Croatia, 6-2, 6-7 ( 3), 6-2.

Shapovalov endures fans, three-hour win over Sonego

No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada won a contentious three-hour and 10-minute first-round match over Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego on Grand Stand Arena, 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-3, after hitting 35 winners to offset 46 unforced errors.

Following a 91-minute opening set, the World No. 16 Shapovalov received a code violation for crossing over the net to dispute a call in the second set. It turned into a point penalty from chair umpire Richard Haigh. Once things settled down, in which the Canadian complained about fans heckling him, Shapovalov went to work. Soon, he wrapped up the victory over the No. 28 Sonego, who was a Rome semifinalist last year and was definitely the crowd favorite among the mostly-Italian crowd.

“Obviously, I knew going in it was going to be a tough match,” Shapovalov said in an on-court interview. “I’m happy to get the win. I had to step up my level. He played some great tennis. I had to calm myself down after my mistake in the second set. …

“Honestly, I always love to play in Rome. I mean, I love the city. I always feel like the fans are really into it. Obviously, today [they were] a little against me more than with me, but it’s always entertaining.”

Next, Shapovalov will face No. 25 Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia, who earned a straight-win over Great Britain’s Dan Evans, ranked 33rd, 7-6 (2), 6-2.

Fognini wins spirited battle over Thiem

Fabio Fognini’s lone win over former World No. 3 Dominic Thiem came in the second round at Rome in 2018. The now 162nd-ranked Austrian came into their featured match on Court Centrale Monday night looking for his first win of the season after three disappointing losses. As it happened, the 57th-ranked Fognini problem-solved his way to a 7-4, 7-6 (5) win that entertained fans for an hour and 53 minutes.

“Of course, I’m happy I won,” Fognini said in an on-court interview. “I’m happy to have another chance to play in this great atmosphere.”

Thiem, who is now 0-4 in tour-level matches this year after being sidelined for the second half of last season with a right wrist injury, last won on May 12 in Rome against Marton Fucsovics. He has now lost nine straight matches on Tour going back to last year.

Meanwhile, Fognini snapped a two-match losing streak to improve to 12-9. Against Thiem, he struck 18 winners to 21 unforced errors, converted two of three break-point opportunities and outpointed his opponent 77-75. He could face No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner in an Italian festival of tennis in the second round if Sinner beats No. 40 Pedro Martinez of Spain Tuesday night.

Around Foro Italico

• No. 15 seed Pablo Carreño Busta needed just 79 minutes to advance with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 39 Federico Delbonis of Argentina on the Grand Stand Arena. The Spaniard hit 23 winners, converted four of eight break points and outpointed Delbonis 67-46. Next, the 18th-ranked Carreño Busta will oppose No. 24 Karen Khachanov of Russia, who beat 227th-ranked Italian qualifier Giulio Zeppieri, 6-3, 6-4.

• Monte-Carlo finalist Alejandro Davidovich Fokina of Spain outlasted No. 50 Ilya Ivashka of Belarus, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, in two hours and 43 minutes to improve to 8-3 on clay this season. Next, the 29th-ranked Spaniard will face eighth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada.

• No. 38 Jenson Brooksby of the United States won in his Rome debut over 20-year-old Italian wild card Flavio Cobolli, ranked 150th, 6-3, 6-4. Next, Brooksby will face either No. 11 seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland or No. 48 David Goffin of Belgium.

• No. 32 Botic van de Zandschulp of the Netherlands took command of his first-round match against No. 30 Sebastian Korda of the United States and won seven of the last eight games, benefiting form three breaks of the American’s serve in the final set, to win 6-4, 6-1 in an hour and 24 minutes on Pietrangeli.  Van de Zandschulp hit 17 winners and outpointed Korda 65-48 to advance against World No. 10 and fifth seed Casper Ruud of Norway.

• Lucky loser Marcos Giron of the United States, ranked 60th, defeated No. 41 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 to advance against either No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina or No. 31 Miomir Kecmanovic of Serbia.

• No. 34 Tommy Paul of the United States advanced over No. 43 Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain, 6-4, 6-4. Next, Paul will face No. 22 Alex de Minaur of Australia, who eliminated 64th-ranked qualifier Dusan Lajovic of Serbia, 6-4, 6-1, in one hour and 40 minutes on Pietrangeli.

• One of the most interesting doubles teams – 6-foot-9-inch John Isner of the United States and 5-foot-6-inch Diego Schwartzman of Argentina – advanced with an entertaining 5-7, 6-3, 10-1 victory over Santiago Gonzalez of Mexzico and Andres Molteni of Argentina. Next, they’ll face either No. 5 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Colombia, or American duo Reilly Opelka and Tommy Paul.

Alcaraz withdraws to heal foot and ankle

Carlos Alcaraz, who rose to World No. 6 after his Masters 1000 triumph in Madrid, formally withdrew from Rome Monday afternoon in order to heal his ailing right foot and ankle.

”I am contemplating skipping Rome,” Alcaraz said during his post-match press conference in Madrid Sunday evening. “I am still dealing with some problems on my right foot and ankle.”

Alcaraz is coming off a busy stretch of play, in which he won the Masters 1000 Miami Open, followed by the ATP 500 Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell and now the Mutua Madrid Open. He’s won 16 of his last 17 matches with the only loss coming to Sebastian Korda in the second round at Monte-Carlo.

The 19-year-old Spaniard, who was seeded No. 7 in Rome, was replaced in the draw by lucky loser Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland.

Monday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia results

Tuesday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia order of play

By the numbers

All four wild cards are NextGen ATP rising stars from Italy. They include: 18-year-old Luca Nandi, 20-year-old Flavio Cobolli and a pair of 21-year-olds, Matteo Arnaldi and Francesco Passaro. World No. 198 Nandi, born in August 2003, is the youngest player in the Top 200 of the ATP Rankings. He’s bidding to become the first player younger than Carlos Alcaraz to earn an ATP or Grand Slam win.

“Quotable …”

“Last year, I was going through these experiences for the first time, playing against the best players, playing in the Masters 1000, and I learned a lot. Now, it’s different. I go onto the court knowing that I can win, with the confidence that I can win at any moment. … It feels great to be able to beat these players. I would say this is the best week of my life.”

Carlos Alcaraz of Spain, after winning the Mutua Madrid Open title Sunday.