Roger Federer survives scare, rallies past Benneteau at Wimbledon

Switzerland's Roger Federer celebrates after his third round men's singles victory over France's Julien Benneteau on day five of the 2012 Wimbledon Championships tennis tournament at the All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2012. GLYN KIRK/AFP/GettyImages

(AP) WIMBLEDON, England - Roger Federer overcame a two-set deficit Friday at Wimbledon to avoid his earliest Grand Slam exit since 2004.

The six-time champion found himself two points from defeat on six occasions but survived a tense fourth-set tiebreaker and beat Julien Benneteau in the third round, 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-1.

Federer also erased a two-set deficit to beat Juan Martin del Potro in this month's quarterfinals of the French Open. He has mounted eight comebacks from down 0-2 in his career.

Federer avoided the fate that befell rival Rafael Nadal 24 hours earlier on the same Centre Court. Nadal, a two-time champion, made his quickest exit from a major since 2005 when No. 100-ranked Lukas Rosol beat him in five sets Thursday.

Playing the day's first Centre Court match Friday under the retractable roof, defending champion Novak Djokovic rallied past Radek Stepanek 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2.

When a drizzle delayed the start of the third round, tournament officials decided Djokovic's match should be played inside. An odd spectacle ensued: The roof closed as the sun came out and outside court covers came off.

"I was a little bit surprised, when I saw sunshine, that the roof is closed," Djokovic said. "Obviously they're relying on a forecast that I don't think is very reliable here. But OK."

The No. 1-ranked Djokovic missed opportunities to seize an early lead, failing to convert his first five break-point chances before he lost serve at love to drop the opening set. But he dominated from there, breaking in the first game in each of the final three sets.

Also advancing to the second week was top-ranked Maria Sharapova. She rallied from a break down in the second set to beat Hsieh Su-wei 6-1, 6-4.

American Sam Querrey hit the last of his 21 aces on match point and beat No. 21-seeded Milos Raonic, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (7), 7-6 (8), 6-4. That second-round match had been suspended in the third set Thursday because of rain.

Kim Clijsters led 6-3, 4-3 when No. 12 Vera Zvonareva retired struggling with a cough. The unseeded Clijsters, who plans to retire after the U.S. Open, is a four-time Grand Slam seeking her first berth in a Wimbledon final.

"It's a pleasure to be a part of the second week of a Grand Slam, especially at Wimbledon," she said.

Americans Sloane Stephens and Christina McHale were eliminated in the third round. The 19-year-old Sloane Stephens was beaten by Sabine Lisicki 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-2, and the No. 28-seeded McHale lost to No. 8 Angelique Kerber 6-2, 6-3.

No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska defeated Britain's Heather Watson under the roof, 6-0, 6-2.

Djokovic has the weekend off and said he might squeeze in a round of golf. His fourth-round opponent will be 34th-ranked Viktor Troicki in an all-Serbian match. Troicki beat No. 15-seeded Juan Monaco 7-5, 7-5, 6-3.

Fans were still buzzing about Rafael Nadal's second-round defeat, which ended under the roof Thursday night, when Djokovic stepped onto the same court. His slow start briefly stirred speculation about another upset.

"I was a set down but managed to make the crucial break in the opening game of the second set," Djokovic said. "And then I thought I played really well."

Stepanek, at 33 the oldest man left in the tournament, repeatedly played serve and volley and had Djokovic on his heels in the early going. Djokovic hit an improbable winner that skipped off the top of the net post and still lost the first set.

Then the match quickly swung his way, and the 28th-seeded Stepanek couldn't compete with Djokovic's mistake-free play. The Serb committed just 13 unforced errors in 221 points.

The match remained entertaining even as it became lopsided. One game in the final set lasted 26 points and had Djokovic smiling at Stepanek's unconventional style, which included a belly flop in pursuit of a shot.

"The fourth set from Novak's side was very impressive," Stepanek said. "I was battling until the end, but the fourth set I felt like no matter what I do on the court, he always answers."

The victory made it two in row under the roof for Djokovic.

"I thought I played great," he said. "But, look, this is an outdoor tournament, so I think everybody wants to play when the roof is open."

Perhaps not Sharapova — she was outdoors struggling with her serve on windy Court 1 and sent one shot over the net on the bounce for a double-fault.

Has she done that before?

"I'm sure I have," she said. "A lot in practice."

The misfire came on break point and put her behind 2-3 in the second set. She rallied by sweeping the final four games.

Sharapova finished with five double-faults but committed only seven unforced errors on her groundstrokes.

"Considering the conditions, I'm pretty happy with the way I played," she said.

Sharapova won the French Open this month to complete a career Grand Slam title. She won Wimbledon at age 17 in 2004 and has reached the final at three of the past four majors.

The half of the men's draw opposite Djokovic opened up when two-time champion Nadal lost to No. 100-ranked Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

Nadal had reached the past five Grand Slam finals and won his seventh French Open title this month. He also had reached the final in his past five Wimbledons, winning the title in 2008 and 2010.

His departure creates an opportunity for three-time Wimbledon finalist Andy Roddick and Andy Murray, who seeks to become the tournament's first British champion since 1936. Both are on Nadal's side of the draw.

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