• Wimbledon, Day Five

Federer performs the great escape against Benneteau

ESPN staff
June 29, 2012 « Sharapova and Clijsters stroll into last 16 | Chartbeat test »

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Roger Federer avoided the unthinkable at Wimbledon as the six-time champion battled from the brink of defeat to survive the challenge of Julien Benneteau.

The world No. 3 recovered from losing the opening two sets and survived a nerve-wracking fourth set tiebreak to claim a 4-6 6-7(3) 6-2 7-6(6) 6-1 victory to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon.

Federer, who has not failed to reach the fourth round of a grand slam since 2004, came agonisingly close to joining Rafael Nadal in making an untimely exit from the All England Club, but he held his nerve to overcome an inspired Benneteau in a thriller under the Centre Court roof.

Federer, who had looked imperious in his opening two matches, seeing off Albert Ramos and Fabio Fognini for the loss of just nine games, struggled to stamp his authority on the match as Benneteau went for broke.

The Frenchman reeled off 11 winners, grabbing a break in the final game to snatch the opening set as Federer's serve let him down - the Swiss making just 44 per cent of first serves.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic had dropped the opening set in his match against Radek Stepanek earlier on Friday, but the world No. 1 had rallied to win in four sets. When Federer broke for a 2-0 lead in the second set, it looked like Federer was destined to imitate the defending champion.

But the 16-time major winner failed to consolidate his advantage as a backhand found the net to let his opponent back in. As Benneteau's forehand continued to fire, Federer found few opportunities as Benneteau refused to allow him time to dictate proceedings from the baseline.

If Benneteau was feeling the pressure, he didn't show it - saving three set points in style - the first with a well-constructed move culminating in a forehand winner, the second with an ace, and the third an exquisite drop shot. With Federer on the ropes, his error count soared allowing Benneteau to stroll away with the tiebreak.

Facing a humiliating third-round exit for the first time since the 2004 French Open, Federer, a popular champion at the All England Club, bounced back in emphatic fashion to take the third set in 27 minutes as Benneteau's level dropped.

After finding himself 4-0 down in the fourth set, the Frenchman may have been well-advised to conserve his energy for the fourth set, and he responded admirably, recovering from 0-40 down to hold his serve for a 3-2 lead.

With neither player giving anything away on serve, the fourth set went to a tiebreak, and although Benneteau twice battled back from a mini-break down, he caved at the critical moment as Federer forced a decider.

Letting a two-set lead slip from his grasp appeared to dent Benneteau's confidence and was forced to call the trainer as he received treatment on his right thigh. He returned to court, dropping his subsequent service game, and his challenged fizzled out as Federer breezed through the final set.

The 16-time grand slam champion will meet Belgian Xavier Malisse in the fourth round after he triumphed in a five-set battle with Fernando Verdasco.

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