Everyone turned up for Wimbledon on Friday morning still in a state of shock, mumbling about a Czech named Lukas Rosol. By the end of another dramatic day, the name almost changed to Julien Benneteau, but Roger Federer refused to go the way of Rafael Nadal and fought back from two sets down to beat the Frenchman 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-1 in 3 hours, 34 minutes.
There are those who say that Federer will not win another Grand Slam because of the five-set format. Federer just smiles when the suggestion is put to him and he was grinning after this fine effort against a player who raised his game to unexpected heights.
Both Federer and Benneteau are 30 years old, but it was the Frenchman, who had taken a heavy fall in the third set, who was suffering most at the end. Even some quick and heavy massaging of the thighs at change-overs in the fifth set could not help him as he continued, vainly, to chase Federer’s raking drives.
But it had all been very different at the start. Playing under the roof for reasons best known to the referee’s office because it did not rain all day, Benneteau put Federer on the defensive with his attacking play and pinpoint service returns. Often he made Federer seem a step slow but, even after he had won the second set tie break, he couldn’t quite maintain the momentum and the six-time Wimbledon champion seized his opportunity.
By the time the match entered the fourth set, it was a battle of nerves as much as tennis and, once again, one had to admire the Frenchman’s resolve. Racing about court, he kept blunting Federer’s ground strokes and coming up with some thrilling passes down the line. Once, when Federer charged the net, Benneteau hit him with a perfect cross-court pass off the forehand. He volleyed well, on occasion too, and again one wondered how this 32-year-old had never, throughout his worthy 10-year career, managed to win an ATP singles title. He is surely the best player on the circuit never to have claimed one.
The fourth-set breaker was obviously the moment for him to make a grab for glory, but he couldn’t do it. A couple of weak backhands proved expensive and Federer eventually got the contest on level terms by taking it on his second set point with when Benneteau netted.
It soon became clear that the fifth would become a formality — much to the relief of Federer’s army of supporters who looked more exhausted than the man himself.
“It was a tough match,” Federer admitted. “Brutal at times. He played so well. I was not surprised because he had beaten me the last time we met at the Paris Indoors. But, at two sets to love down, you just have to stay calm. Focus on point to point. Sounds boring but that’s what you have to do.”
Benneteau admitted that he was cramping in the fifth set but made no excuses.
“The conditions were perfect,” he said. “At the beginning of the third set, he was two sets down but didn’t show anything. He took his opportunity when my level went down and that’s why he’s the player he is. First serve, first serve — he didn’t show me many mistakes.”
Earlier, Novak Djokovic had also lost the first set against that wily Czech Radek Stepanek but recovered quicker than Federer and won comfortably in the end, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 to move into the fourth round.
“Being aware of his qualities and experience, I wasn’t too surprised with the way he played in important moments,” Djokovic said. “I managed to make a crucial break in the opening game of the second set and then I thought I played really well.”
Sam Querrey’s delayed second round 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 win over Milos Raonic was huge for the big man from California. Raonic was supposed to be a major threat in this tournament. But the powerful Canadian has still not learned how to step it up at Grand Slam level and, despite winning titles on the ATP tour, the 21-year-old has failed to get past the fourth round in any of the seven Slams he has played.
Friday, Querrey made it hard for him because this was the player who had risen to a ranking high of No. 17 in January 2011 before needing elbow surgery this time last year. Solid and powerful and seemingly unflappable, Querrey not only served well but handled the fastest serve on the tour with great skill.
“I felt like a did a decent job of returning the serve,” he said. “I have a big wing span and I felt like every time I got my racket on it, I did a pretty good job of putting it in play.”
Earlier Big Sam had let everyone know what it meant to him with an untypical show of emotion out there on No. 1 Court. “Yea, I’m pretty calm and collected after a win or a loss but, kind of let it out there a little bit at the end. It just felt good. This is definitely my biggest win in a long time. It was a big moment, big court and it felt good.”
Querrey will finding himself handling a big serve again in the third round when he faces the 16th seed, Marin Cilic.