Federer finds a way back from the brink

 

Tennis:Roger Federer set pulses racing as he diced with danger for more than three hours before dousing the fireworks of French buccaneer Julien Benneteau with a pulsating 4-6 6-7 6-2 7-6 6-1 Wimbledon third-round win this evening.

Just 24 hours after Rafa Nadal's demise, Frenchman Benneteau sent shockwaves of equal magnitude around the All England Club as he destroyed Federer during the first two sets with ferocious forehands, belting backhands and incredible reflex shots.

The Frenchman stood two points from victory in the fourth set but Federer showed the mental strength that has earned him a record 16 grand slam titles to stand firm as he steered the match into a fifth set.

Once there, Benneteau seemed like a spent force as he limped between points and even called on the trainer to massage his exhausted limbs back to life but it was to little avail as the Swiss master booked a fourth-round match against Belgium's Xavier Malisse.

Earlier, Novak Djokovic staved off a shock when he came from a set down to beat Radek Stepanek.

The top seed saw his 33-year-old Czech opponent snatch the first set against the run of play before he blasted him aside to win 4-6 6-2 6-2 6-2 and book a clash against fellow Serbian Viktor Troicki in the fourth round.

Just as the final set was in Nadal's late-night exit to Lukas Rosol, today's opening match was also played under the closed roof on Centre Court after lunchtime drizzle.

It proved a tough test for the defending champion, who had a straight-sets win over American Ryan Harrison in the second round.

Following the win, Djokovic denied thoughts of second seed Nadal crashing out of the tournament entered his mind after losing the first set.

The 25-year-old said: "It was a tough match but I think I played the second, third and fourth sets really well. I was focusing on my opponent today. I know he is very tricky player, very talented and he's one of the few players that comes to the net after every first serve.

"He has a lot of variety in his game and can hurt anybody but I love playing under the roof."

Before a ball was served, Stepanek was made to change his red trainers as they did not comply with the all-white dress code.

Djokovic put pressure on his opponent's serve immediately with his strong return game but Stepanek held on to avoid an early break.

The Czech was struggling but managed to save three break points to hold serve in the fifth game.

It was a tale of two service games, with the 28th seed clinging on while Djokovic cruised through his and toyed with his opponent from the baseline. However, out of the blue a shift in momentum saw Stepanek with three set points as the world number one's serve faltered for the first time, the Czech converting as Djokovic fired wide.

From then on, however, the title favourite showed his class, securing an instant break in the second set before stealing another to make it 6-2, before claiming the third set in equally quick time.

Set four was wrapped up in style as Stepanek wilted, his tactic of charging to the net proving fruitless as a ruthless Djokovic ended his tournament with a curving backhand.

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