Stanislas Wawrinka has previewed his upcoming Italian Open encounter with Novak Djokovic, admitting a clash with the world No.1 is not the best prize after winning back-to-back matches to reach the third round at the Foro Italico.
Since arriving in Rome, Wawrinka has beaten 14th seed Reilly Opelka to notch his first win in 15 months, before besting Serbia’s Laslo Djere. His reward? A meeting with one of his oldest rivals, who the three-time grand slam champion has contested some epic matches with over the years.
Today’s encounter will be the 26th time the pair have faced one another and the first since the 2019 US Open.
The world number one leads their head to head 19-6, and 5-2 on clay. Although Djokovic has played a limited number of tournaments so far this season, the odds are still stacked against Wawrinka.
Wawrinka is happy to be facing Djokovic once again, but is unsure if he will be competitive enough to defeat him. “It’s not the best prize, but it’s always special to play against him,” he said. “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.” The former world number three had two surgeries on his foot which kept him out of action for over a year.
“After two surgeries, at my age I could easily have stopped playing because my career is way better than what I expected when I was young,” he expressed. “But I still have this fire in me. I still believe that I can play great tennis. I still believe that I make some big results, maybe not now, but in a few months.
“There is no shortcut. I needed to do that time on the court and off the court. It was a long time I was out. I gained some weight, it was tough. With foot surgery you can’t do much. I needed a lot of effort to be back, but already in the last few weeks since [Monte Carlo] it is much better.”