When Roger Federer takes to the court at Wimbledon tomorrow, he will be hoping that his fourth-round opponent will turn out to be an easier propostion than the man who threatened to knock him out of the tournament in the third round on Friday. Federer has played his next adversary, Xavier Malisse, nine times over the years, and he has won the lot.
However, one could forgive Federer if the scars of Friday leave a nagging doubt in the back of his mind about easy success after he found himself two sets down to Julien Benneteau in front of a packed Centre Court and had to summon up all his experience to pull off a thrilling comeback.
On top of that the Belgian Malisse, despite being in the twilight of his career at the age of 31 and down to 75 in the world rankings, is on a roll at the moment having knocked out two seeds, Gilles Simon and Fernando Verdasco, in the last two rounds.
But if Federer does find himself dangerously behind against the X-man, as he is known, he has certainly demonstrated that he has the tools to extracate himself from the predicament – and not just because of the experience of his win over Benneteau. This was the seventh time in a Grand Slam tournament that the Swiss has come back from being two sets down to eventually claim victory.
"Having been there so often, down two sets to love, knowing how to handle the situation [was key]," said Federer after eventually beating Benneteau of France 4-6 6-7 6-2 7-6 6-1.
With the comeback, he narrowly avoided following Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon after the Spaniard was stunned by 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol on Thursday.
"The thing, when you're down two sets to love, is to stay calm, even though it's hard because people are freaking out, people are worried for you," Federer said. "You don't have, obviously, many lives left out there. You just try to play tough and focus point for point. Sounds so boring, but it's the right thing to do out there."
Benneteau said he played perhaps the best match of his life, dictating play for much of the first two sets. Even that, though, proved insufficient against the 16-time Grand Slam winner.
"Mentally, he's a rock. He's two sets down and he doesn't show anything. And after that, if your level is a little bit lower - right here, right now, he takes the opportunity," said Benneteau, whose cramping thighs were massaged by a trainer during two final-set changeovers. "At the beginning of the third set, I was not as good as I was in the first two sets, and in five minutes, it's 4-0."
Like Federer and Nadal, Novak Djokovic fell behind against someone he was expected to beat easily: the Serb lost the first set of his third-round match to world No 28 Radek Stepanek, Rosol's Davis Cup team-mate for the Czech Republic. But quick as can be, Djokovic turned things around, breaking Stepanek to begin each of the next three sets for a 4-6 6-2 6-2 6-2 victory that moved him closer to a semi-final showdown against Federer.
Both Djokovic – who takes on unseeded Viktor Troicki in an all-Serbian match-up tomorrow – and Federer found it odd to be playing with Centre Court's retractable roof closed as a precaution, despite a blue sky overhead. "That takes a bit of getting used to. Indoor grass is not something we're quite familiar with," Federer said.
As for Djokovic, he added: "We got to the court and they closed the roof. And then we saw sunshine and clear blue sky. But the rule is you cannot open the roof when it is closed. That's what I was told. I was a little bit surprised when I saw sunshine.
"But obviously they are relying on a forecast that I don't think is very reliable here. But, look, this is an outdoor tournament, so I think everybody wants to play when the roof is open."
The roof's closure the previous night had already upset Nadal before his disastrous final set. What was Djokovic's view? "It's not on us to decide if the roof is going to be open or closed," he said. "From a player's perspective, it's really important that people from the organisation and everyone take their opinion very seriously.
"Rafa knew what was best for him. Obviously, it distracted him a little bit as he was playing well in that fourth set. But that's what happens. The last two matches, I've played under the closed roof and I have played great."Reuse content