Sinner, Wawrinka Gut Out Three-Set Wins In Rome
In a back-and-forth match that included several dominant stretches from both players, Sinner surrendered a break advantage in the deciding set but pushed over the line with a final surge to earn a 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 victory.
"It was a tough one for sure. I tried to play my best tennis, especially in the important points," the 10th seed said in an on-court interview. "In the second set, he raised his level. He played better than me. In the third set it was a little bit of a rollercoaster. Fortunately I've done a great job in the final set to manage to break him first, and this for sure was the key today."
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Sinner improved to 23-5 on the season as she seeks his fifth quarter-final of the year, while Fognini dropped to 12-9. The 34-year-old has made two clay-court finals in 2022, reaching that stage in Rio de Janeiro and Belgrade. The World No. 13 Sinner moved up one spot to No. 12 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings with the victory and can push all the way to No. 7 with the Rome title. That result would earn him a new career-high in next week's Pepperstone ATP Rankings, surpassing his previous high of No. 9, first achieved last November.
The 20-year-old enjoyed greater success in short points in the Centre Court matchup, while the veteran Fognini got the better of the longer rallies, including on two break points which he ended with scorching baseline winners. But after a world-class forehand earned him his third break of the match to get back on serve at 3-4 in the decider, Fognini dropped serve behind two double faults, finishing with nine in the match.
That would be the final twist in a topsy-turvy match, as Sinner served it out to love in the ensuing game to match his best result in Rome by reaching the last 16.
"He's a great friend," Sinner said of his opponent. "He gave me a lot of confidence when I played with him in Davis Cup. He's a very special player, like today, he can raise his level incredibly fast."
Fognini won the first six points of the contest but then lost the next seven as Sinner secured an early break and cruised to the opening set. Fognini then won eight points in a row midway through the second to take a break lead, but needed a brilliant break-point backhand to reclaim the advantage and cap a run of three games against serve.
In the third set, Sinner won 12 straight points to lead 4-1 before Fognini earned the break back. But Fognini's 39 errors proved too much to overcome as Sinner won eight of the last nine points to prevail.
The ebb and flow of the match was neatly illustrated by the Balance of Power metric. The winner of each set also won out in that statistic, which measures the percentage of shots hit from an attacking position. The greatest margin came in the final set, as shown below.
“It’s not the best prize, but it’s always special to play against him,” Wawrinka said in his on-court interview. “I’m not where I want to be yet with my game, with my fitness level, with my mental [game]. I need those matches, so to have a chance to play against the best player, it’s going to be really difficult for me, that’s for sure.
“I’m not ready to compete I think at that level, but it’s what I need. I need those challenges. I need to push myself as much as I can to keep improving.”
Wawrinka went 15 months between tour-level wins as he recovered from two left foot surgeries. The Swiss star needed just two days to earn his next victory in Rome.
After rallying from a set and a break down Monday against Reilly Opelka in the first round, the Swiss overcame a break deficit in the deciding set against Djere. Wawrinka was not at his flying best, often choosing to play longer rallies and use his backhand slice to try to gain an advantage. When he did unleash his powerful groundstrokes, they sometimes missed the mark.
But the 37-year-old’s fighting spirit was at its peak. After breaking back for 3-3 in the decider, Wawrinka put his index finger to his head to reflect that. Although Djere played daring tennis — especially on the forehand side — to save three match points, he was unable to dismiss a fourth. The Serbian missed a forehand long and Wawrinka cracked a wide smile as he looked to his team and the fans at the Foro Italico roared their approval.
“Tonight was a big fight. [There was] big support from the fans, it’s always something special,” Wawrinka continued on court. “At my age, after all I’ve done in my career, that’s one of the main reasons why I’m still playing. It’s to get the chance to play in front of the fans.”
In his post-match press conference, Wawrinka expanded on his feelings: "It was tough battle, that's for sure. Amazing atmosphere. Great to play those matches. That's exactly what I need.
"I was feeling in general great. I'm happy with the fight, I'm happy [with] what I've done, the way I finished. As I say, I need those matches. I need the competition. You cannot practice that feeling. You cannot practice that feeling of nerves, stress, the way you feel during the match, the way the body reacts. It was a bit up and down with my body, but I finished really strong, was feeling much better at the end. I'm happy with that win."
Marin Cilic had his return game dialed in to upset ninth seed Cameron Norrie 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 to reach the third round. The Croatian broke serve five times to set a meeting with Chilean Cristian Garin, whom he leads 2-0 in ATP Head2Head meetings.
World No. 23 Cilic, who had not won consecutive matches since reaching the Australian Open fourth round in January, is looking to reach a Masters 1000 quarter-final for the first time since Madrid 2019.
American qualifier Marcos Giron scored an upset against 12th seed Diego Schwartzman, taking a 6-1, 7-6(4) decision on Pietrangeli. The World No. 60 reached the Dallas semi-finals in February but had not picked up a main-draw win on the ATP Tour since later that month in Acapulco, until his opening-round victory over Alexander Bublik in Rome snapped a seven-match losing streak.
He advances to face eighth seed Felix Auger-Aliassime in his bid to extend his debut run in the Italian capital.