Federer demonstrates championship grit

Sat, Jun 30, 2012, 01:00

TENNIS:THE AFTERSHOCK threatened to rival the seismic magnitude of Rafael Nadal’s exit from Wimbledon on Thursday night but the six-time champion Roger Federer came from two sets to love down to win a wonderful contest against Julien Benneteau 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-1.

Champions are more prone to find a loophole when it seems that a sentence has been delivered condemning them to defeat. The number three seed, though, will be the first to acknowledge that he had to scour the small print to discover the escape clause.

It was a marvellous effort from the 30-year-old Frenchman but ultimately it was fatigue as much as an errant game that proved his undoing. In the first set he didn’t afford Federer a single break point on his serve and Benneteau took the only one he was offered to win it 6-4.

There is a requirement in any sport that, to be successful, opportunities must be taken; champions are not immune, and Federer spurned six break points in the second, three of which would have given him the set.

Benneteau, who racked up 26 winners to his opponent’s 11, was rewarded for his tenacity by taking it to a tie-break. The Frenchman took a firm grasp from the outset, winning the first three points, before eventually closing it out 7-3.

He needed to hold his serve in the opening game of the third to ratchet up the pressure but Federer broke not once but twice and raced into a 4-0 lead, before taking the set 6-2. It proved the first occasion in the match where Federer dominated in terms of hitting outright winners.

The Swiss player had three break points in the fifth game of the fourth set but could not avail of any, and the set was eventually determined by the second tie-break of the match. The pivotal moment was the 13th point, unlucky for the Frenchman, as he pushed a backhand over the baseline. Federer found a decent second serve on the next point to win the tie-break 8-6.

Benneteau, on a four-match winning streak in terms of five-set contests, was visibly tiring. And his predicament appeared to worsen when he tweaked his left knee while serving an ace in the second game of the deciding set, hobbling around in the aftermath. He explained afterwards: “I was cramping in my quads and it was tough for me to have strong support to hit the ball well.”

The trainer was summoned and arrived one game later, on the changeover. The Frenchman received a quick massage but was promptly broken in the next game; vintage Federer dominating and hitting two glorious winners.

Benneteau was spent physically and was not about to be offered any respite by the 16-time Grand Slam winner. Federer sensed blood and pounced on his wounded opponent as he broke again in the sixth game, before serving out for the match. There was an element of anti-climax to the way that the fifth set panned out but no one will cavil at the effort of Benneteau, the 29th seed.

Gracious in defeat, he said of Federer: “Mentally he’s a rock. He’s two sets down and he doesn’t show you anything. He has a great capacity to improve his game during a match. At the beginning of the third set I let my level drop a bit from the first two, and in five minutes it’s 4-0 (to him). He’s a champion.”

There was a lovely moment at the finish where the two players embraced. Federer explained that he had known Benneteau since he was 12 and that they were good friends. The Frenchman told him to go on and win the tournament. If he does, he’ll look back on this night with pride.

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