(Rome) Novak Djokovic was very solid on Thursday to dismiss the returning Stan Wawrinka but it is Félix Auger-Aliassime who will be a more reliable test for the Serb in the quarter-finals of the Masters 1000 in Rome where his place of number 1 world will be at stake.
For his part, Rafael Nadal started the decisive set against Denis Shapovalov at 10 p.m.: after easily winning the first set 6-1, the Spaniard lost the second 7-5.
In the women’s draw, the day was quiet for the favorites with easy qualifications from Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Ons Jabeur and Maria Sakkari.
Djokovic and Wawrinka played memorable games. But that was before. Today the Serb is N.1 while the Swiss has fallen to 361st place in the ATP and is trying to return to his best level after more than a year of inactivity to treat a foot injury.
And the difference on the court was stark. Wawrinka (37) did well – or forced his opponent to succeed – a few great strokes of tennis, but not enough to worry Djokovic who won 6-2, 6-2.
“I was solid, very disciplined from start to finish, got him moving. We can see that he does not move like before, he is slower”, analyzed Djokovic, wishing however that Wawrinka finds his best level because “he has been very important for our sport in the last ten years, winning three titles of the Grand Slam and having settled for years in the Top 5 or Top 10”.
Himself lacking in matches before defending his title at Roland-Garros (May 22-June 5), the world number 1 proved to be very solid on serve and return, as well as physically and tactically in better condition than in Monte-Carlo (eliminated from entry) and Belgrade (finalist).
Wawrinka, however, did not offer him sufficient opposition to gauge whether he had further progressed compared to Madrid last week when he was eliminated in the semi-finals 6-7, 7-5, 7-6 by future winner Carlos Alcaraz.
Friday in quarters in Rome, however, the test will be more convincing against the Canadian Félix Auger-Aliassime (9th) who beat the American Marcos Giron (60th) 6-3, 6-2.
“Clay is not his favorite surface. But for two years he has been working with Toni Nadal who has obviously made him progress on this surface, “said Djokovic about his next opponent who has secured the services of Rafael Nadal’s uncle.
In the event of a defeat against the Canadian, Djokovic, who lost in the final last year, would give up his place as world No.1 to Daniil Medvedev, who was absent in Rome.
Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsistipas will also be at the quarterfinals.
The German (3rd) dismissed the Australian Alex De Minaur 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) and will face the Chilean Christian Garin (45th) on Friday who defeated the Croatian Marin Cilic (23rd) 6- 3, 4-6, 6-4.
“It was better than yesterday, that’s for sure”, welcomed the Tokyo Olympic champion who had fought Wednesday to overcome the resistance of the Argentinian Sebastian Baez (37th) 7-6 (8/6), 6-3.
“I have to keep my focus better than that,” he tempered.
“Alex is a very good player and above all a very good raiser. So losing his serve against him can happen, but I really need to be more efficient on my serve throughout the match, ”analyzed the German.
Zverev won the first major title of his career in Rome in 2017 by beating Novak Djokovic in the final. The following year, he was beaten in the final by Rafael Nadal, the same man who beat him in the quarterfinals last year.
As for Tsitsipas, he took a set to settle on Thursday before unfolding to dominate Russian Karen Khachanov (24th) 4-6, 6-0, 6-3.
The Greek (5th) will face local hero Jannik Sinner (13th) who defeated Serbian Filip Krajinovic (54th) 6-2, 7-6 (8/6).
“I raised my level in the second set”, he analyzed, happy to have managed to keep his composure to put in place his “tactical schemes”.