Novak Djokovic went within one win of keeping his World No. 1 ranking on Thursday, defeating Stan Wawrinka 6-2, 6-2 in chapter 26 of their long-running rivalry.
The Serbian, who needs to reach the semi-finals to prevent Daniil Medvedev from rising to No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings on Monday, absorbed Wawrinka’s hard ball-striking and spun the former World No. 3 around to reach the quarter-finals after 75 minutes.
Djokovic now leads Wawrinka in their ATP Head2Head series 20-6, and their clash in Rome will be their first since the Swiss star stunned 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.”
The 34-year-old will face Felix Auger-Aliassime in his 89th ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final on Friday after the eighth-seeded Canadian upset American Marcos Giron 6-3, 6-2.
Following his second-round defeat 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 in Belgrade before reaching the Mutua Madrid Open semi-finals 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 out to a faster start, easily finding his range on return to break. The Serbian stayed close to the baseline throughout the set, outmanoeuvring Wawrinka
with a combination of crisp groundstrokes and drop shots to take the lead after 31 minutes.
Djokovic continued to torment Wawarinka in the second set by demonstrating exceptional feel and power with his foot on the pedal. The 34-year-old replied aggressively throughout, reading Wawrinka’s serve effectively and breaking three times in the second set to win.
Heading into the business end of the tournament, Djokovic is a strong favourite to go all the way.
He is a consistent beast who keeps on performing. If evidence was needed, Djokovic now has reached at least the quarter-finals in all 16 of his appearances in Rome!