Former World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka earned his first tour-level win since February 2021 Monday, rallying past American Reilly Opelka 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 to reach the second round at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.
The Swiss star was competing in just his second ATP Tour match in 14 months but showcased quality and grit throughout, hammering forehands and blasting his trademark backhand with precision to advance after two hours and five minutes.
“I was feeling good on the court. Physically I was feeling great,” Wawrinka said. “When you don’t win a match in more than a year, you start to think about it more than what you should and not focus on the right things.
“In general I think it was a great match, great battle. I stayed positive. I start to feel much better with my tennis by the end of the second set, and the third set. I’m really happy with this victory.”
The 37-year-old looked down and out when he trailed the big-serving American 2-4 in the second set. However, he started to consistently find Opelka’s feet on return and began to close the net more effectively to turn the match around in front of a lively crowd and level his ATP Head2Head series with the World No. 17 at 1-1.
Wawrinka will next face Laslo Djere or Borna Coric as he looks to work his way back to full fitness after being sidelined since March 2021 with a foot injury. The 16-time tour-level titlist made his ATP Tour return against Alexander Bublik in Monte Carlo in April.
Before his victory over Opelka, Wawrinka had not earned a match win since he defeated Pedro Sousa at the 2021 Australian Open.
Opelka, who reached the semi-finals in Rome last year, captured his first clay-court title in Houston last month.
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In other action, Monte Carlo finalist Alejandro Davidovich Fokina continued his impressive clay-court season with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win over Ilya Ivashka in two hours and 43 minutes.
The Spaniard, who is making his third appearance in Rome, is now 8-3 on the surface this year. The 22-year-old will next face eighth-seeded Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Denis Shapovalov overcame a stubborn Lorenzo Sonego and a raucous home crowd to prevail in a three-hour, 10-minute first-round epic on Grand Stand Arena.
The 13th seed had to battle through periods of intense frustration as he struggled for consistency against 2021 semi-finalist Sonego. The tone for a see-saw encounter was set by a 91-minute first set, eventually clinched by the Canadian in a tie-break, and Shapovalov’s extra power from the baseline proved the difference in the decider as he completed a 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-3 win.
Shapovalov reached the semi-finals in Rome in 2020, losing out to Diego Schwartzman in a third-set tie-break, and the 23-year-old next faces Nikoloz Basilashvili in the Italian capital after the Georgian overcame Daniel Evans, 7-6(2), 6-2.
American Jenson Brooksby captured victory on his debut at the ATP Masters 1000 event, dispatching Italian wild card Flavio Cobolli 6-3, 6-4. The 21-year-old will play 11th seed Hubert Hurkacz or Belgian David Goffin in the second round.
The 20-year-old Cobolli is currently eighth in the Pepperstone ATP Race To Milan as he aims to make his debut at the 21-and-under event on home soil in November.