Roger Federer avoided following Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon by coming from two sets down last night to beat Julien Benneteau.
Second seed Nadal’s exit to unheralded Czech Lukas Rosol on Thursday was one of the greatest grand slam shocks in recent memory. Although a loss for Federer against the French 29th seed would not have been as great a surprise, it would still been a remarkable upset.
Six-time champion Federer last failed to reach the fourth round of a grand slam in 2004.
There was trouble against Benneteau when he fell two sets behind, spurning three set points in the process, but he found his rhythm and eventually dragged himself back from the brink.
He was helped by Benneteau visibly wilting as the match went on. A one-time quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, he rather rolled over in the third set and, despite taking the fourth to a tie-break, meekly conceded the fifth as well, with Federer winning 4-6 6-7 (3/7) 6-2 7-6 (8/6) 6-1.
Benneteau pulled ahead by taking the opener when he broke in the ninth – Federer netting a backhand. The Swiss responded by taking his opponent’s serve at the start of the second but uncharacteristically failed to cement the break, losing his own serve in the very next game.
Displaying a brilliant range of winners on both sides, Benneteau was creating the better chances and he had break opportunities in both the seventh and ninth games, Federer getting himself out of trouble with his serve.
The Frenchman was the next to rely on his serve to swerve danger, seeing off three set points in the 12th game and, no doubt buoyed by his escape, rushed to a tie-break win, never looking back after Federer’s long forehand offered up a mini break on the first point.
Out of keeping with the match at that point, the third set was a brisk affair, Federer breaking twice early on to take it, but the fourth returned to form, with both men holding through to a tie-break.
Benneteau did have to save three break points in the fifth game but was untroubled apart from that and, at 30-15 on Federer’s serve in the 12th, had half an opening. Victory, in theory, was two points away.
He could not seize the chance however, and after saving one set point in the breaker he netted on the next and the match was levelled.
That was the green light Federer needed to reach the finish line first, breaking to love in the fourth game of the decider with a forehand around the net and again in the next Benneteau service game to see it out.
“It was a tough match, it was brutal and I had a bit of luck on my side,” Federer said.
“When I was down, I tried to stay calm. People can freak out, people are worried for you, you don’t have many lives left. You try to take it point by point.”