Roger Federer staged a remarkable fightback on Friday to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon and avoid following great rival Rafael Nadal in exiting the grass-court grand slam before the end of its first week.
At two sets down against Julien Benneteau, Federer seemed set to suffer the same fate as Nadal — who lost to little-known world No. 100 Lukas Rosol on Thursday.
But the man who has won a record 16 grand slam titles showed on Centre Court that he will not give up on his bid to match Pete Sampras’ leading seven London crowns.
Benneteau, ranked 32nd, had beaten the Swiss superstar once in the last of their previous three meetings in 2009 — and the big-serving Frenchman was up for the challenge again as he won the first set 6-4 and then took the second 7-3 in a tie-break.
Federer had to come from two sets down in his first-round Wimbledon match in 2010, and he pulled off the feat for the eighth time in his career after winning the third set 6-2, leveling with a crucial 8-6 tie-breaker and then cruising 6-1 in the decider after his fellow 30-year-old called for treatment on a leg injury.
Federer will next take on another experienced opponent in Belgium’s Xavier Malisse, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2002.
The 31-year-old, who also reached the fourth round last year, progressed with an equally battling 1-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory against Spanish 17th seed Fernando Verdasco.
Federer is moving towards a semifinal clash with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who had to come from a set down before beating Czech 28th seed Radek Stepanek earlier on Friday.
He will next face fellow Serbian Viktor Troicki, who beat Argentine 15th seed Juan Monaco to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon for the first time and only the second at any of the four grand slams.
If he beats Troicki, Djokovic will take on either French 18th seed Richard Gasquet or German No. 31 Florian Mayer.
Federer faces a possible quarterfinal against Russian 26th seed Mikhail Youzhny or Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomen.
Youzhny ended the hopes of Djokovic’s eighth-seeded compatriot Janko Tipsarevic, who was aiming to reach the fourth round for the first time since 2008 but went down 6-3 6-4 3-6 6-3.
Istomen also won in four sets against Colombia’s Alejandro Falla, who famously blew a two-set lead against Federer two years ago. The 26-year-old has reached the last 16 of a grand slam for the first time in his career.
Milos Raonic has been tipped as Sampras’ successor, but the big-serving Canadian bowed out of the tournament after losing 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (9-7) 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 to unseeded American Sam Querrey in their delayed second-round match.
Querrey, who reached the fourth round in his last appearance in 2010, will play Croatia’s Marin Cilic for a place in the last 16 on Saturday.