Stan Wawrinka battled hard to register his first win in 15 months.
The Swiss player rallied from a set and break down against Reilly Opelka to complete a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory in the first round of the Rome Masters.
It was his first tour-level win since the 2021 Australian Open.
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The never-say-die approach that took Wawrinka past Opelka on Monday is one that has helped him deal with his frustrations while recovering from a foot injury over the past 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,” said Wawrinka.
“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.”
Wawrinka returned to competitive action in March at the same ATP Challenger Tour event in Marbella as another former World No. 3, Dominic Thiem.
He lost in the first round of the Monte Carlos Masters on his Tour comeback.
But Wawrinka dug deep to make sure he didn’t suffer the same fate in Rome.
“Physically I was feeling great,” said Wawrinka after booking a second-round meeting with Laslo Djere.
“For sure when you don’t win a match in more than a year, you start to think about it more than you should and not focus on the right things.
“In general I think it was a great match, great battle. I stayed positive. I started to feel much better with my tennis by the end of the second set, and [in] the third set. I’m really happy with this victory.”