Day 5 Preview: Wawrinka Steps Up Comeback In Djokovic Showdown
For the first time this week at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, all remaining men's singles competitors will play on the same day. Eight third-round matches fill a packed Thursday schedule, with each of the tournament's Top 5 seeds still standing.
The 26th ATP Head2Head meeting between Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka headlines the Centre Court evening session, with defending champion Rafael Nadal, 2017 champion Alexander Zverev and home favourite Jannik Sinner also in action on the stadium court.
 Novak Djokovic (SER) vs. Stan Wawrinka (SUI)
Djokovic leads Wawrinka 19-6 in their rivalry with a 2-0 mark in Rome, including a three-set win in the 2008 final. With a victory on Thursday, the World No. 361 Swiss — who entered the ATP Masters 1000 event with a protected ranking — would become the lowest-ranked player to reach the Rome quarter-finals and to defeat a World No. 1 in a tour-level match since the ATP Tour began in 1990.
Wawrinka won the pair's last two meetings, in the 2016 US Open final and the 2019 US Open fourth round, with the latter coming by way of a third-set retirement. While the 37-year-old seeks a 25th Masters 1000 quarter-final and a fourth in Rome, Djokovic is bidding for his 89th quarter-final at that level. The Serbian has never failed to reach the quarter-final stage in 16 previous appearances in the Italian capital.
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Djokovic must reach the semi-finals this week to retain his place atop the Pepperstone ATP Rankings — he currently sits at No. 2 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings as he defends 600 points from reaching last year's Rome final — and will hit 1,000 career wins with a trip to the final.
After earning his first tour-level win in 15 months by beating Reilly Opelka in three sets in the opening round, Wawrinka again went the distance to knock off Laslo Djere on Wednesday. Despite those results, he downplayed his chances against the World No. 1.
"Novak, it's going to be tough. A tough challenge for sure," Wawrinka said in his post-match presser. "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."
Djokovic, who looked sharp in a straight-sets win over Aslan Karatsev on Tuesday, is seeking his first title in five events this season.
 Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs.  Denis Shapovalov (CAN)
In an all-lefty clash, Nadal takes on 2020 Rome semi-finalist Shapovalov in a rematch of a third-round epic from last year. The Spaniard saved two match points before clinching a deciding-set tie-break after three hours, 27 minutes on his way to a 10th title in Rome in 2021, and Nadal is prepared for another stern test Thursday as he chases his 100th Masters 1000 quarter-final appearance.
“Last year was a joke, the match that I saved here against him [Shapovalov]," Nadal said after beating Isner in the second round on Wednesday. "[I was] super lucky. I know how dangerous he is. I need to play well, of course. I need to play better than today, but after a while without being on court it is another victory and I have the chance again to play against one of the best players in the world.”
Shapovalov trails Nadal 1-4 in the pair’s ATP Head2Head series, but the Canadian again pushed Nadal all the way in their only meeting since last year’s Rome classic — a five-set win for the Spaniard in the quarter-finals at January’s Australian Open. Shapovalov’s year has somewhat stalled since that defeat and he is 15-8 for the season, but the 13th seed has already demonstrated his resilience this week by coming through a raucous first-round clash with home favourite Lorenzo Sonego.
 Casper Ruud (NOR) vs. Jenson Brooksby (USA)
Ruud’s European clay results have been underwhelming by his standards so far this year, with the World No. 10 winning just four matches across four tournaments prior to Rome. That disappointing run was in danger of continuing in the Italian capital when he dropped the opening set to Botic van de Zandschulp on Tuesday, but the fifth seed stepped up to complete a comeback win as he bids to improve on his 2020 semi-final appearance at the Foro Italico.
Unseeded Brooskby notched an impressive win of his own on Tuesday, taking out David Goffin to reach the third round in just his second clay-court Masters 1000 event. Brooksby has been solid in backing up his breakout 2021 season this year, reaching the final at the Dallas Open, and his maiden ATP Head2Head meeting with clay-court force Ruud promises an intriguing spectacle.
Best Of The Rest
Second seed Alexander Zverev seeks his 100th win at the ATP Masters 1000 level in the day's opening match against Alex de Minaur on Centre Court. The 2017 champion in Rome is also bidding for his fourth quarter-final at the event as he seeks his first title of a 22-8 season. Zverev and de Minaur have exclusively played on hard courts in their six ATP Head2Head meetings, with Zverev leading the series 5-1 and taking their most recent meeting in three sets last year in Vienna.
Home favourite Jannik Sinner, fresh off a three-set battle with fellow Italian Fabio Fognini, plays Filip Krajinovic later on the show court. Both men have been to multiple Masters 1000 quarter-finals, Sinner three times before and the Serbian twice, but neither has been beyond the last 16 in Rome.
On Grand Stand Arena, fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas will take on Karen Khachanov in the first men's match on. The Greek, who saved two match points against Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday, is 4-0 against the World No. 24. If he can keep that perfect record intact, Tsitsipas will break a tie with Carlos Alcaraz for 2022 ATP Tour match wins lead with a record of 29-9.
Isner and Schwartzman look to make it 2-0 in their new partnership as they take on Cabal and Farah on Court 2. Isner holds an impressive 19-4 doubles record on the year, including Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells (with Jack Sock) and Miami (with Hubert Hurkacz). He also reached the Madrid semis with Hurkacz, earning him a career-high Pepperstone ATP Doubles Ranking of No. 22.
Cabal and Farah reached the Madrid final last week but dropped a Match Tie-break to Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski, who eliminated Isner and Hurkacz one round earlier. Koolhof and Skupski are also in action in Rome as they take on Rohan Bopanna and Matwe Middelkoop for a place in the Rome quarter-finals.
The doubles quarter-final slate will be completed following six matches on Thursday.