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Federer survives five-set thriller to reach last 16
LONDON (Reuters) - Roger Federer 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 on Friday.
Just 24 hours after Rafa Nadal's shock demise, 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 audacious reflex shots.
When the Frenchman stood two points from victory in the 12th game of the fourth set, and again in the tiebreak, it seemed as if Federer's incredible streak of reaching 32 consecutive grand slam quarter-finals would end on the Swiss's much-loved Centre Court arena.
But fraying nerves are not the sign of a champion who has won a record 16 grand slam titles and he did not flinch as he withstood Benneteau's onslaught to steer the match into a fifth set.
Once there, Benneteau appeared like a man walking through treacle 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 Federer raced through the final set.
When the Swiss third seed brought up three match points and was waiting to deliver his final serve, a distraught Benneteau could not even face reality as he covered his eyes with his hand and turned his back to the net.
But he could not delay the inevitable forever and the man who had come so close to pulling off one of the biggest ever shocks surrendered his Wimbledon hopes by paddling a tired shot into the net.
It left the Swiss master to savor a near-escape as 15,000 hollering fans leapt to their feet to give the two protagonists a standing ovation.
"It was brutal. Bit of luck in my side maybe. I fought till the very end. I tried in the third, fourth and fifth just to stay alive - in the fourth it was so close," a hugely relieved Federer said after surviving the three hour 34 minute thriller which was played out in its entirety under a closed roof despite the absence of rain.
"Julien was playing amazingly. When you're down two sets to love you have to stay calm even though it's hard because people are freaking out.
"You obviously don't have many lives left out there and you just try to play tough and focus point to point.
"Indoors is not what we're quite used to on grass and I'm happy I got this one out of the way."
Federer will next face Belgium's Xavier Malisse.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ed Osmond)
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