Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Sports

More stars forced to rally

WIMBLEDON, England — A day after Rafael Nadal's stunning exit at Wimbledon, the only other men who have won the tournament since 2003 — six-time champion Roger Federer and defending champion Novak Djokovic — found themselves trailing far-less-accomplished opponents, too.

Here we go again? Not quite.

Federer, the No. 3 seed and owner of a record 16 majors, dropped the first two sets against 29th-seeded Julien Benneteau, then six times was two points away from losing before pulling out a 4-6, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1 victory in the third round Friday.

"It was brutal," Federer said. "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. … 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."

It was the eighth time in Federer's career that he overcame a two-set hole, including against 2009 U.S. Open champ Juan Martin del Potro in the French Open quarters 3½ weeks ago.

"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."

Still, it hardly was the last key moment. With Federer serving while down 6-5 in the fourth set, Benneteau hit a forehand winner to get to 15-30, putting him two points from the upset. Federer hit a forehand winner that made it 30-all, still two points away for Benneteau. The game had two deuces also, each one placing Benneteau that close again. But Federer held.

In the tiebreaker, Federer was two points from being gone at 5-all, then 6-all. But a nine-stroke exchange ended with Benneteau netting a backhand. That gave Federer set point and a power­ful forehand forced a Benneteau forehand error, and Federer avoided the surprise that befell No. 2 seed Nadal, who lost to the previously unknown Lukas Rosol.

"It's Wimbledon," Djokovic said. "Everybody wants to come up with their best game, especially when you're playing one of the top players, one of the favorites. You have nothing to lose."

Djokovic fell behind No. 28 Radek Stepanek, but the top men's seed turned things around, breaking Stepanek to begin each of the next three sets for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 victory.

Seeded women who won included No. 1 Maria Sharapova and No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska. Four-time major champion Kim Clijsters got through when No. 12 Vera Zvonareva quit in the second set because of what she said was a respiratory infection.

Today, everyone is eager to see Rosol against No. 27 Philipp Kohlschreiber.

"I'm curious to see how he's going to play," Clijsters said. "To me, he looked a little bit arrogant out there, so I wonder how he'll react in his next match, if he can stay grounded. You can beat Nadal, but if you lose the next round … "

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