Djokovic A Win Away From Retaining World No. 1 Ranking In Rome

Novak Djokovic (photo: Giampiero Sposito, Internazionali BNL d’Italia)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 12, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Top seed Novak Djokovic played at a high level and gave an impressive performance worthy of his World No. 1 ranking. It  lasted 74 minutes – and could have gone longer if needed – during his 6-2, 6-2 victory over 361st-ranked Stan Wawrinka at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome Thursday afternoon.

The victory moved the five-time Rome champion Djokovic to within a win of retaining his World No. 1 ranking for at least another week. He must reach the semifinals in Rome to keep No. 2 Daniil Medvedev from overtaking him in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings next Monday.

It was the 26th time that the 34-year-old Serbian and 37-year-old Wawrinka, who is coming back from having undergone two foot surgeries last year, have met and first since the Swiss star beat the top-seeded Djokovic at the 2019 US Open. Thursday’s latest win gave Djokovic his 20th triumph over the future Hall of Famer from Switzerland. Wawrinka’s victories earlier this week, against Reilly Opelka and Laslo Djere, were his first in 15 months.

“It is great to see Stan back and winning,” Djokovic said during his on-court interview after the match. “He won two tough matches. You can see he is still not physically where he wants to be. But nevertheless, he is Stan Wawrinka and he can hurt you if you give him time.

“I managed to do well from the beginning. I really moved him around the court and held my serve comfortably except that loss of my served in the second set.”

Djokovic hit 15 winners and made 13 unforced errors. He converted five of the seven break-point chances he had against Wawrinka. Djokovic jumped out to early 3-1 leads in both sets, which set the tone for the third-round match on Court Centrale. Wawrinka counted with 14 winners and 23 unforced errors. Djokovic outpointed his opponent 64-41 to move on.

The victory advanced Djokovic into his 89th ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal on Friday. He will play No. 8 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada.

“I have known Felix for quite a few years,” said Djokovic, a winner of 37 ATP Masters 1000 crowns. “He is established, a Top 10 player, so [he] is right up there. He is as hard a worker on the Tour that you see and he is a nice guy. His all-around game is improving. He is improving on clay.”

Shapovalov dethrones ailing defending champion Nadal

A year after Denis Shapovalov nearly beat Rafael Nadal in Rome, losing in a third-set tie-break after having two match points, the No. 13 seed from Canada rallied from a set down to beat the 10-time Italian champion, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, in two hours and 36 minutes on Court Centrale. He won the last five games of the match and it appeared that Nadal suffered a foot injury, likely a recurrence of his chronic left foot problem.

The victory advanced Shapovalov to his sixth ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal and it eliminated the Spaniard from a milestone 100th Masters 1000 last eight berth. The triumph was Shapovalov’s second against Nadal in six head-to-head appearances – and first since beating him at Montreal in 2017.

Afterward, during his post-match press conference, Nadal addressed his foot injury. “I am living with an injury,” he said. “My day by day is difficult. I am trying hard but of course it’s difficult to accept the situation at times. A lot of days I can’t practice the proper way.

“Today, it started halfway through the second set and it was unplayable for me. I don’t want to take away credit from Denis that he deserves. Today is for him.”

Shapovalov, who was just 17 the first time he faced and beat Nadal five years ago, said: “He was completely outplaying me at the beginning of the match. Obviously the first set, the beginning of the second, I was just hanging in there. Definitely really happy to turn it around.”

Shapovalov hit 13 aces and struck 35 winners to overcome making 39 unforced errors and outscored Nadal 93-90. Nadal finished with just 13 winners and racked up 34 unforced errors. Shapovalov converted five of 13 break points against Nadal while saving seven of 11 he faced from him.

On Friday, Shapovalov will oppose World No. 10 and fifth seed seed Casper Ruud of Norway.

Milestone 100th Masters 1000 win for Zverev

No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev of Germany garnered his 100th ATP Masters 1000 victory with a 6-3, 7-6 (5) win over Australia’s 22nd-ranked Alex de Minaur on Court Centrale.

The World No. 3 and five-time Masters 1000 champion, coming off a run to the Madrid final last week, put away his 23rd win of the season with a well-placed drop shot that ended a final 10-shot rally. It was the 27th winner of the afternoon for Zverev who won 76 percent (31 of 41) of his first-serve points, converted four of nine break points and outpointed de Minaur 77-66. It was his sixth career triumph over the Australian No. 1 in seven meetings.

“My performance was better than yesterday. I managed to keep my focus,” Zverev said in his on-court interview, comparing his win over de Minaur with that against 37th-ranked qualifier Sebastian Baez of Chile on Wednesday. “Alex is a great player and he is a great returner. So, losing your serve and there can happen.”

Zverev’s serve was broken three times during the one hour, 50-minute match.

“I need to work on serving out a little more. I tried to stay aggressive,” he added. “I had to hit my shots quite hard against Alex and it worked out well today.”

The milestone triumph advanced Zverev, a winner of six of his last seven matches, into Friday’s quarterfinal round against No. 45 Cristian Garin of Chile, who took out No. 23 Marin Cilic of Croatia, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in two hours and 56 minutes on Grand Stand Arena. Zverev has reached five quarterfinals this season.

Tsitsipas earns ATP Tour-leading 29th victory of season

World No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece came on strong during his third-round meeting with No. 24 Karen Khachanov and won 12 of the final 15 games in his 4-6, 6-0, 6-3 victory over the Russian to advance to the quarterfinals on Grand Stand Arena.

Thursday’s outcome was a stark contrast to a day ago, when Tsitsipas saved two match points against Grigor Dimitrov. This time, after dropping the first set, he won nine straight games and found his groove and rhythm during his service games. He hit eight aces and won 79 percent (38 of 48) of his first-serve points, including five aces and 15 of 16 first-serve points in the third set.

“It was a great, great match,” Tsitsipas said during his on-court interview. “I really upgraded my game in the second set. I was really able to follow through after every shot. I loosened up a little bit and concentrated on depth a little bit more.

“I hit great serves towards the end of the third set. I was able to stay calm on each serve and I was not rushing. I tried to visualize my patterns and it was a great last game.”

The victory was the fifth in five career head-to-head meetings by the four-seeded Greek star over Khachanov. His first of 217 career wins came against Khachanov five years ago in Shanghai. It also broke a tie with World No. 6 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain for the most ATP Tour match wins this season with 29.

Tsitsipas hit 25 winners to 15 unforced errors, while Khachanov tallied 19 winners and made 25 unforced errors. Tsitsipas outpointed Khachanov 82-59 to advance to his third Rome quarterfinal and 15th ATP Masters 1000 last eight.

Next, Tsitsipas will play No. 10 seed Jannik Sinner of Italy, who advanced with a 6-2, 7-6 (6) win over No. 54 Filip Krajinovic of Serbia in an hour and 41 minutes on Court Centrale. It’s the first time Sinner has advanced past the last 16 in Rome and the fourth Masters 1000 quarterfinal for the Italian No. 1.

Sinner fired 11 aces and struck 29 winners overall to 26 unforced errors. He converted three-for-three break-point opportunities and outpointed Krajinovic 65-62.

Around Foro Italico

• No. 5 seed Casper Ruud of Norway hit 29 winners en route to his 96-minute 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 38 Jenson Brooksby of the United States on Pietrangeli to reach his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal on clay this season and eighth ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal overall.

The World No. 10 Ruud outpointed Brooksby 71-57 to advance to Friday’s last eight against No. 13 seed Denis Shapovalov of Canada, who upset an ailing World No. 4 and defending champion Rafael Nadal of Spain, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, in two hours and 36 minutes on Court Centrale.

• No. 8 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada reached the fourth ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal of his career – and second in two weeks – with his 6-3, 6-2 win over 60th-ranked lucky loser Marcos Giron of the United States in 88 minutes on Pietrangeli.

Auger-Aliassime closed out his 23rd win of the season with his 11th ace on match point. He hit 30 winners overall, converted four of eight break-point chances and outpointed Giron 70-46. Next, Auger-Aliassime will face top-seeded Novak Djokovic in Friday’s quarterfinal round.

• No. 7 seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain advanced to Friday’s quarterfinal round with the 7-6 (3), 6-3 win over Rohan Bopanna of India and Matwe Middelkoop of the Netherlands. Next, the Madrid champions will face No. 3 seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia. Also, John Isner of the United States and Diego Schwartzman of Argentine pulled off a 6-3, 3-6, 12-10 upset of No. 5 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Colombia. Next, they will play Harri Heliovaara of Finland and Lloyd Glasspool of Great Britain in the quarterfinals.

Thursday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia results

Friday’s Internazionali BNL d’Italia order of play

By the numbers

Rafael Nadal was seeking his 100th ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal, 70th victory in Rome and 24th consecutive win against a fellow lefty when he faced Denis Shapovalov. Nadal lost, 1-6, 7-5, 6-2.

“Quotable …”

“I’m not where I want to be yet. I need matches. I need practice, I need to spend time on the fitness. It’s a good challenge to play him, of course.

“I don’t think I’m ready to play at that level yet, but it’s going to be interesting to see. I need to get through those matches the next few months.”

Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, commenting on playing Novak Djokovic in the third round at Rome.