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Ricky’s picks for the Rome Tennis third round: Djokovic vs. Wawrinka and Nadal vs. Shapovalov

Grand Slam champions collide in Rome: Novak Djokovic vs. Stan Wawrinka. Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d’Italia

By Ricky Dimon

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will be aiming for spots in the Rome quarterfinals when they take the court on Thursday. The two all-time greats are going up against familiar foes Stan Wawrinka and Denis Shapovalov, respectively.

Here are my previews and picks for the two matchups.

(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (WC) Stan Wawrinka

Wawrinka has turned back the clock to make a surprising appearance in round three of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia. You have to turn it back even farther to find the last completed head-to-head match between these two veterans. That was the 2016 U.S. Open final, in which Wawrinka pulled off a good 6-7(1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 upset for his third Grand Slam title. They also faced each other at the 2019 U.S. Open, but Djokovic retired from their fourth-round contest while trailing two sets to love. Despite those results, the top-ranked Serb has won 19 of their 25 meetings (five of six on clay, not counting retirements).

Heading into Rome, Djokovic and Wawrinka had won a combined seven matches in 2022 (all seven by Djokovic). Wawrinka is just now coming back from a year-long injury absence and so far this week he has battled past Reilly Opelka and Laslo Djere in three sets. How much more can the 37-year-old’s body take when it isn’t used to this much tennis in a short amount of time? Having to face Djokovic won’t make things any easier–even though the No. 1 seed may not be in peak form. A semifinal run in Madrid was relatively encouraging and Djokovic had no trouble erasing Aslan Karatsev 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday. This is a fun matchup on paper, but it probably won’t last long.

Pick: Djokovic in 2

(3) Rafael Nadal vs. (13) Denis Shapovalov

Nadal vs. Shapovalov is a rematch of the same tournament and same round last year, when the Spaniard survived 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) on his way to a 10th Rome title. Shapovalov also had Nadal on the ropes earlier this season at the Australian Open only for the Canadian to collapse in the fifth set en route to a 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 3-6, 6-3 loss. Overall, the head-to-head series stands at 4-1 in Nadal’s favor (2-0 on clay) and he has won four in a row since falling to Shapovalov 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(4) at the 2017 Montreal Masters.

Like Djokovic, Nadal’s Madrid ouster came at the hands of eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz. But Rome generally suits the 35-year-old much better than Madrid; he is a 10-time champion of this event and his bid for No. 11 got off to an emphatic start with a 6-3, 6-1 beatdown of John Isner on Wednesday. Shapovalov has already passed two tough tests in the form of Lorenzo Sonego (7-6(5), 3-6, 6-3) and Nikoloz Basilashvili (6-4, 7-6(5)). Still, the world No. 16 is just 4-4 dating back to the Dubai semifinals. This is unlikely to be as competitive as their memorable 2021 showdown.

Pick: Nadal in 2

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.