Novak Djokovic moved within one win of retaining his World No. 1 ranking on Thursday, defeating Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-2 in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open in Rome.
After 75 minutes, the Serbian soaked up Wawrinka’s heavy ball-striking and pulled the former World No 3 around to advance to the quarter-finals.
Djokovic now leads Wawrinka in their ATP Head to Head series 20-6, and their meeting in Rome will be their first since the Swiss star defeated the top seed at the US Open in 2019.
“It is great to see Stan back and winning. 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,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview.
“I managed to do well from the beginning. I really moved him around the court and held my serve comfortably except for that loss of my serve in the second set,” he added.
The 34-year-old will face Felix Auger-Aliassime in his 89th ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final on Friday after the eighth-seeded Canadian defeated American Marcos Giron 6-3, 6-2.
Following his second-round exit in Monte Carlo, the World No. 1 has been gaining momentum over the last month. The 86-time tour-level champion advanced to the final of the Belgrade Open before reaching the semi-finals of the Madrid Open last week.
Djokovic is attempting to win his 38th Masters 1000 title in the Italian capital, where he is a five-time champion. His first title in Rome came in 2008, when he defeated Wawrinka in the final.
In front of a raucous crowd on centre court, Djokovic got off to a faster start, quickly finding his range on return to break. The Serbian stayed close to the baseline throughout the set, outmanoeuvring Wawrinka with a combination of precise groundstrokes and drop shots to take the lead after 31 minutes.
Djokovic kept his foot on the gas in the second set, demonstrating great feel and power to frustrate Wawrinka. The 34-year-old returned aggressively throughout, reading Wawrinka’s serve well and breaking three times in the second set to win.
Wawrinka won his first tour-level match in 15 months in Rome, defeating Reilly Opelka before edging Laslo Djere to set up a meeting with Djokovic. The 37-year-old, who was sidelined by a foot injury last season, was hoping to reach his fourth quarter-final in Rome.
Notably, in all 16 appearances in Rome, Djokovic has reached at least the quarterfinals.
(Inputs from IANS)