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Federer comes back from the brink

Roger Federer jumps as he hits a forehand against Julien Benneteau.
by Barry Newcombe
Friday 29 June 2012

Roger Federer won a gripping third round match on Centre Court at Wimbledon on Thursday night after coming from two sets down to defeat the Frenchman Julien Benneteau in five sets, keeping the crowd spellbound for three hours and 34 minutes.

Third-seeded Federer needed all his experience of winning at Wimbledon to control the ambitious and rewarding start of Benneteau and turned the match around in his own relentless style to win 4-6 6-7(3) 6-2 7-6(6) 6-1.

Benneteau set the tone for the match with his defiant attitude and competitive attitude in the first two sets but it was a measure of Federer's resistance that he did not lose his service in either of the last three sets.

The crowd might have feared that Federer, six times champion, would go out of The Championships just one day after Rafael Nadal had been beaten on the same court. But the Swiss player lived with all the trials which Benneteau set for him and never gave up fighting for victory. It was a huge success for Federer to win the contest between the two 30-year-old players, especially in such style as he ran out the final set in just 26 minutes.

In the final set Benneteau received treatment on both thighs at the changeover and it must have been disheartening for him to succumb so quickly to Federer in the last stages when he had given so much to the contest. In his ninth Wimbledon and carrying the status of 29th seed, the Frenchman's best run at Wimbledon was reaching the round of 16 in 2010. They had not met on grass before but both men left their mark.

Federer started the match as clear favourite but after two sets was so far behind that his situation looked perilous, two sets down, Benneteau playing inspired tennis full of vision and power, and there seemed to be little that Federer could do to escape the pressure.

If anything how tight this contest was from the start it was the fact that there was only one break point in the first set, against Federer in the ninth game, and it had been earned by a backhand winner. After that, for the break, Benneteau forced a backhand error and clinched the set in the next game after Federer had saved two set points.

The second set saw Benneteau go a break down in the second game but restore it immediately. Federer fought off break points in the seventh and ninth games but Federer missed three set points at 6-5. But in the tie-break the Frenchman took command.

As the match reached the two-hour mark, Federer at last began to gain some consistency and then authority in the 27-minute third set, which he ended with two service winners in a love game.

The fourth set pressured Benneteau into recovering from 0-40 in the fifth game but in the tie-break he made two errors on the last two points for Federer to level the match.

Bennetau said he was cramping in the fifth set--"so it was tough for me to serve and also to have a strong support to hit the ball well. "

This had been drama of high level sustained over a lengthy evening on Centre Court and there was an atmosphere of anti-climax as Federer started to win all the points which mattered on his way to a victory which will set him up for a second week when the challenge intensifies.

Benneteau said of Federer: "He played well. Mentally he's a rock you know. He's two sets down and he doesn't show anything. After that if your level is a little bit lower, right here, right now he takes the opportunity. He has a capacity also to improve his game during the match. So you have to be focused every point, every point against him. If you don't make the right shot tactically you lose the point almost. So it's tough.

"Two sets down and he's a champion. He arrived to win the match in five sets and he was not in control. I think he was a little bit panicked but not comfortable. But at the end of the day he's here. He doesn't make any mistakes. At the end of the fourth set his serve was incredible."

"I felt great, obviously," Federer said. "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. So I have been there, but obviously not with the roof closed. That made the atmosphere very special out there.

"I really thought the crowd really got into it. For the players it was obviously great to be part of such a match. When you come through, it's even a better feeling because your spirits are then lifted up and you're still in the tournament and you'll get another chance."

The six-time champion's next test comes in the form of Xavier Malisse. He knows it will be tough. But after this evening, anything is possible.

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