QF Preview: Djokovic & Felix Face Off In Rome
Friday is quarter-final day at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, with four marquee matches set in both the men's singles and doubles competitions. Four of the Top 5 singles seeds are still standing, led by World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, with Chile's Cristian Garin the lone unseeded player among the last eight.
On Centre Court, fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on Jannik Sinner in an Australian Open rematch before Casper Ruud meets Denis Shapovalov and Djokovic faces Felix Auger-Aliassime. Second seed Alexander Zverev will open play against Garin on Grand Stand Arena, where the Italian doubles duo of Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini closes out the schedule against eighth seeds Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies of Germany.
 Novak Djokovic (SER) vs.  Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN)
Djokovic and Auger-Aliassime will meet for the first time on Friday, with the Serbian needing a victory to ensure his stay atop the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. He currently sits second behind Daniil Medvedev in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, having lost the 600 points he is defending from his Rome final run one year ago.
Auger-Aliassime, who entered Rome at a career-high of No. 9, has improved one spot in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings by reaching the quarter-finals and would reach No. 7 with the title. After grinding through a three-set win against Monte Carlo finalist Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in his opening match, the Canadian cruised past Marcos Giron in the last 16.
Djokovic has dropped just nine games in his two Rome matches, looking sharp against Aslan Karatsev and Stan Wawrinka. In addition to playing to maintain his status as World No. 1 ahead of Roland Garros, he is also two wins shy of his 1,000th career victory.
Out of the eight quarter-finalists, Auger-Aliassime scores highest at 31 per cent in the Balance of Power metric — which measures the percentage of shots played in attack — while Djokovic is a close second to Garin with a 44 per cent Steal rate, measuring how often a player wins points in which his opponent gains an attacking advantage. Ruud leads the way with a 77 per cent Conversion rate, which examines how often a player wins points from attack. The below chart, sorted by highest Balance Of Power, is based on each player's data through the Rome quarter-finals.
Though Djokovic and Auger-Aliassime have not met in the heat of competition, the Serbian is familiar with the 21-year-old and his game.
“I have known Felix for quite a few years,” said Djokovic, who has reached at least the quarter-finals in all 16 of his Rome appearances. “He is established, a Top 10 player, so is right up there. He is as hard worker on the Tour that you see and he is a nice guy. His all-around game is improving. He is improving on clay. I know his game and what is expected."
 Casper Ruud (NOR) vs.  Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
Ruud won his only previous ATP Head2Head meeting with Shapovalov in the 2021 Geneva final last May. The Norwegian is finding form again on the European clay as he's bounced back from a first-round exit in Madrid with wins against Botic van de Zandschulp and Jenson Brooksby. A semi-finalist in both Monte Carlo and Madrid last season, the Norwegian had returned a modest 4-4 recrod following his surprise run to the hard-court Miami final in March.
Shapovalov battled back from a set down against an injury-hampered Rafael Nadal on Thursday, gaining a measure of revenge after missing out on two match points in a 2021 Rome defeat against the Spaniard. Shapovalov took the fight to Nadal before his injury concern became a factor midway through the second in a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory. The win was Shapovalov's first against Nadal since his breakout 2017 result in Montreal.
He now looks to back that up by turning the tables on Ruud.
"Casper is extremely difficult," the Canadian previewed. "I've only played him one time and he got the better of me. He's an opponent with almost no weaknesses so it's going to be another challenging match for me."
 Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) vs.  Jannik Sinner (ITA)
Tsitsipas saved two match points in his opening win over Grigor Dimitrov and won another three-setter against Karen Khachanov on Thursday to start his bid for a second ATP Masters 1000 title of the season. His third-round win improved his season record to 29-9, surpassing Carlos Alcaraz for the ATP Tour wins lead in 2022.
Tsitsipas is 12-2 on the European clay swing, backing up his second consecutive Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters title with runs to the Barcelona quarter-finals and Madrid semis before Rome.
Sinner, who has won three matches to reach the quarter-finals, is not far behind at 24-5. The home favourite is playing in the Rome quarter-finals for the first time and will need to overturn a lopsided Aussie Open defeat to progress further.
The Greek, who will pass Rafael Nadal to claim the No. 4 spot in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on Monday, cruised to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Sinner in the quarter-finals in Melbourne and holds a 3-1 record in their ATP Head2Head. The pair split two Rome meetings in 2019 and 2020, with Sinner taking the second matchup in three sets.
"Every match is a different story," Tsitsipas said when asked about their history. "We've played each other on clay, but every match has its own story to tell. I know for a fact that he's going to go out there playing free and is going to be very much motivated to do well in front of his home crowd. I'm going to have to deal with this and also deal with my tennis at the same time.
"My job is to go out there and play tennis. Of course, he has a little bit more support, which is normal. He's going to have some things that are in in his favour. But at the end I need to play good tennis and really prove myself out on the court."
 Alexander Zverev (GER) vs. Cristian Garin (CHI)
In the lone men's singles match on Grand Stand Arena, Zverev and Garin meet for the first time since the Chilean upset Zverev on home soil in the 2019 Munich quarter-finals.
Zverev, the 2017 Rome champion, beat Sebastian Baez and Alex de Minaur in straight sets to reach the last eight. He was happy with his performance over the Australian on Thursday but said he still needs to work on his serve, which caused him problems on his run to the Madrid final last week.
Garin earned his first two Rome wins in dominant fashion but had to go the distance to knock out Marin Cilic in the last 16. The 25-year-old is a five-time ATP Tour champion, with all of his titles coming on clay. He is seeking his first trophy of 2022 after a slow start to the season that included a five-match losing streak — a run he emphatically ended with an April semi-final showing in Houston.
By reaching the Rome quarter-finals, Garin has moved up nine places to No. 36 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. He reached a career-high of No. 17 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings in September 2021.
In addition to the Bolelli/Fognini vs. Krawietz/Mies showdown on Grand Stand Arena, three more doubles quarter-finals are set for Court 1. In the only meeting between seeded teams, the Croatian duo of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic will take on Madrid champions Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski.
And in what promises to be an entertaining battle between two unlikely quarter-finalists, the first-time pairing of John Isner and Diego Schwartzman will face the last-minute alternate duo of Lloyd Glasspool and Harri Heliovaara, who rushed to Rome early on Wednesday to take their place in the draw.