(Reuters) – Three-times major champion Stan Wawrinka said that playing Novak Djokovic is always special but added that he may not quite be ready to face a player of the world number one’s quality following his return from long-term injury.
The 37-year-old, who did not play for an entire year after undergoing two surgeries for a foot injury, battled past Laslo Dere 7-6(8) 3-6 6-4 to set up a 26th career meeting with Djokovic in the last-16 of the Italian Open on Thursday.
“It’s not the best prize, but it’s always special to play against him,” said Wawrinka, who has won his last two matches against the Serbian.
“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.”
Wawrinka’s victory over 14th seed Reilly Opelka in Rome earlier this week was his first in 15 months and the Swiss said he had a long way to go before regaining full fitness.
“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.”
Djokovic, who defeated Aslan Karatsev in his opening match, is looking for his sixth title on the clay in Rome and first this season.
(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)