Roger Federer survived another late night epic under the Centre Court roof, saving match point during a fourth-set tie-break to avoid the fate of Rafael Nadal. Had a Martian dropped in at the start of the final set, he might have wondered what all the fuss was about. Hitherto he would have struggled to tell the man with 16 grand slam victories apart from the one without a win on the main tour.
Federer retrieved a two-set deficit for the eighth time in his career to record his 62nd Wimbledon win, one behind Pete Sampras, 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-1. It was the right ending for Federer but the wrong one for a match that saw the most decorated player in the history of the game taken to the edge. Federer was a towering tennis edifice about to fall, which would have taken the sport into historic territory.
Never in the 10 years that they have been contesting grand slams together have Federer and Nadal both failed to make the second week. Then again only recently have they had to contend with a roof over Centre Court. Julien Benneteau (right) is not quite an outsider in the class of Nadal-slayer Lukas Rosol. Neither was he expected to lead Federer to the point of ruin. Federer survived thanks to a cruel twist delivered by the gods of health and fitness.
Benneteau's body began to break down during his opening service game of the final set. It was clear he was hampered and though he held his serve he received treatment for cramp from a trainer at the change of ends. Two games later the trainer was back. Benneteau was by now being eaten by lactic acid and running a 4-1 deficit. Federer had only to stand at the other end to close out the match.
"It was a tough match, brutal," Federer said. "I had a bit of luck on my side, but I fought to the very end. Obviously he was hurt at the end but I tried in the third fourth just to stay alive. Julien was playing amazing tennis. I've lost to him before. He was making me doubt and that is credit to him. When you are down two sets to love you need to stay calm. The fans are freaking out because they think you might lose. You don't have many lives left so you just focus from point to point."
How long before the tennis elite boycott the peak viewing slot on the world's most celebrated court? Like Nadal the evening before, Federer could not get into the game. Or rather his opponent would not allow it. The certainty and fluency that we associate with Federer was entirely in the ownership of the Frenchman.
Federer had lost only nine games coming into this match, demonstrating how fickle is that commodity called confidence, even when your name has appeared six times on the trophy. Though he ripped through the third set he was back in the mire in the fourth. After serving to take the set to a shoot-out Federer was forced to save match point at 4-6 against the serve in the tie-break.
Of the backhand return Federer hit to stay alive, Benneteau said: "It is the only return like that he made in the match. After that I could not get into the rally. Mentally he is a rock. Two sets down he didn't show anything [of his emotions]. I was a little off in the third set and in five minutes he was 4-0 up. You cannot make a mistake against him."