WIMBLEDON â€“ For the second night in a row, it looked as though one of the â€œBig Threeâ€ was going to be sent home early under the closed roof of Centre Court at Wimbledon on Friday.
Switzerlandâ€™s Roger Federer was just two points away from being dismissed by Frenchman Julien Benneteau. But the world No. 3, soon to become No. 2,Â escaped Rafael Nadalâ€™s fate from Thursday night by rallying from a two sets to love deficit to advance to the round of 16 – 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-1.
“It was a tough match — oh, my god, it was brutal,” Federer said after winning the match. “Maybe (there was) a little luck on my side, who knows. He was hurt (left thigh) in some ways in the fifth set.”
â€œMentally he’s a rock, said the Frenchman.Â â€œHe’s two sets down and he doesn’t show anything.Â After that, if your level is a little bit lower, right here, right now he takes the opportunity.
â€œAt the beginning of the third set I was a little bit not as good as I was during the first two sets, and in five minutes it’s 4â€‘0.
â€œHe has a capacity also to improve his game during the match.Â He was more aggressive right after I serve the first shot of the rally, he tried to hit the ball stronger and to be more aggressive, and you feel it when you are on the opposite side.
â€œSo you have to be focused every point, every point against him.Â You cannot make any mistakes.Â If you don’t make the right shot tactically at the right place, you lose the point almost.Â So it’s tough.â€
Benneteau was in control in the first two sets of the match preventing Federer from capitalizing on three set points in the second set.
â€œI don’t think I should have lost the second set,â€ Federer said. â€œI mean, credit to him.Â At the end, once he got the break back and he was in the match again, obviously I think he almost might have had a few more chances earlier until I did have set point and I hit a great return.
â€œI mean, things just didn’t work out for me in the second set, but myself to blame to give the break back.Â That’s where I’m most upset with my performance today potentially, because that was probably the moment where it got me down two sets to love and put me in this extremely tough situation.â€
So what thought were running through Federerâ€™s head when he was two sets down?
â€œWell, I was actually calm, to be quite honest,â€ noted the Swiss.Â â€œI was more panicky sort of midway through the second set.Â Because once I gave the break back and I had the 6â€‘5 great return situation, I just kind of felt that the breaker was going to be a rough one for me.
â€œSo not that I expected to lose it, but I guess when I sat down, I said, All right, here we go now.Â Match has only just started.
â€œI tried to stay calm, and I was.Â It was like he’s still such a long a way from the finish line that there is no reason right now to go crazy about it.
â€œLet’s see how the third starts and then we’ll take it from there.Â Like I said, I have been there so many times that I also know how to handle the situation.Â But on grass I knew it was going to be a different animal, and I’m happy to weather the storm out there today.â€
Bennetteauâ€™s momentum seemed to be when he fell early in the third set which Federer rolled on to win 6-2.
â€œNo, I didn’t hurt myself, the Frenchman explained, â€œbut this fall, it was tough for me, because after this I was a little bit shaky for one, two, three games.Â I was not in my good… â€¦..my good feeling.Â But this fall for me was important in the negative way.â€
â€œObviously in the third set I sort of felt it was going to be a nailâ€‘biter finish in that set because I did miss a Loveâ€‘40 situation early on in that set,â€ said Federer.
â€œSo that was the toughest moment obviously, seeing him come back from Loveâ€‘40 down, you know, and staying in the match and coming so, so close.
â€œBut I did start to play better and better as the match went on, and that’s kind of what I expected of myself once a set down or two sets to love down.
â€œThat I guess comes with experience, but also experience alone is not going to win you the match.Â I had to push deep and extremely hard, and I’m very happy with the way things sort of happened at the end.
The fourth set saw Federer hold back a potential rally from the Frenchman by taking the fourth set in a tiebreak 8-6.
Benneteauâ€™s movement was hampered by cramping and had to call the trainer twice in the fifth set. â€œI was cramping on my quads, Benneteau said. â€œSo it was tough for me to serve and also to have a strong support to hit the ball well.
Federer broke for a 3-1 lead in the final set and never looked back.
â€œI know him since I am 12 years old, I guess,â€ Federer said in regard to Benneteau.
â€œFirst tournament ever I went to in France I remember seeing Julien.Â So he’s about my age, and we spend a lot of time on tour together.
â€œWe respect each other a lot, you know.Â Obviously we knew the moment, that it was sort of a magical moment for both of us for the rest of our lives, I guess.Â You appreciate that.
â€œWell, he hoped that I win the tournament now and wished me well.Â I congratulated him for an awesome performance and that he deserved it.Â It was a tough loss for him.
â€œBut, yeah, he’s a very friendly guy.Â Obviously felt a bit for him at the end.â€
This is the eighth time in Federerâ€™s career he has come back from being down two sets to none to win a match. He most recently accomplished this feat against Juan Martin Del Potro at the French Open.
â€œWell, I felt great, obviously.Â It’s always one of the best feelings coming back from two sets to love in a Grand Slam, I guess, and in particular here at Wimbledon where I have been able to do it before.
â€œSo I have been there, but obviously not with the roof closed.Â That made the atmosphere very special out there.
â€œI really thought the crowd really got into it.Â For the players it was obviously great to be part of such a match.Â When you come through, it’s even a better feeling because your spirits are lifted up and you’re still in the tournament and you’ll get another chance.â€
Federer plays Xavier Malisse of Belgium next for a place in the quarterfinals.