WIMBLEDON, England – When Roger Federer found himself down two sets and staring at an early exit from Wimbledon, the crowd at Centre Court thought back to the stunning upset that took place there a day earlier and wondered if it was witnessing a repeat.
Federer was thinking back, too, but his flashbacks had nothing to do with Rafael Nadal. It was the scenario Federer remembered, though, that ended up repeating itself.
"Having been there so often, down two sets to love, knowing how to handle the situation (was key)," Federer said.
He proved that again, as the six-time Wimbledon champion overcame a two-set hole for the eighth-time, beating Julien Benneteau of France 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-1 Friday in the third round. With the comeback, he narrowly avoided following Nadal out of Wimbledon after the Spanish two-time winner was stunned by 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol on Thursday.
Just like he had against 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the French Open quarterfinals 3½ weeks ago, Federer found a way to wrest back the initiative and fight back.
"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," Federer said. "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."
Benneteau said he played perhaps the best match of his life, dictating play for much of the first two sets. Even that, though, proved insufficient against the 16-time Grand Slam winner.
"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."
Like Federer and Nadal, Novak Djokovic fell behind against someone he was expected to beat easily: The Serb ceded the first set, getting broken at love by No. 28 Radek Stepanek, Rosol's Davis Cup teammate for the Czech Republic. But quick as can be, Djokovic turned things around, breaking Stepanek to begin each of the next three sets for a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 victory that moved him closer to a semifinal showdown against Federer.
Once Djokovic had Stepanek's serve-and-volley style measured, the passing winners and shoetop-high returns started flowing. Talking about falling behind in the second set, Stepanek said: "Not a good move from my side, because once you get these top guys going, then it's tough to stop them."
Benneteau might have sounded the same lament. For quite a lengthy stretch, he played positively Rosol-esque tennis: hard serves and stinging groundstrokes directed at lines. No fear.
But Federer found an opening and barged through, saved in particular by this: He won 63 of the 80 points he served over the last three sets.
Both Djokovic — who takes on unseeded Viktor Troicki in an all-Serbian matchup Monday — and Federer — who begins Week 2 by meeting 2002 Wimbledon semifinalist Xavier Malisse — found it odd to be playing with Centre Court's retractable roof closed as a precaution, despite a blue sky overhead.
"That's a bit of getting used to. Indoor grass is not something we're quite familiar with," Federer said.
Here's what happened: A drizzle delayed the start of play Monday, so tournament officials decided to shut the roof. By the time it was closed, and Djokovic headed out to play, the sun was out.
"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."
Among those moving into the fourth round on outdoor courts: Denis Istomin, the first player from Uzbekistan to make it that far at any Grand Slam tournament, No. 18 Richard Gasquet, No. 26 Mikhail Youzhny and No. 31 Florian Mayer. Unseeded American Sam Querrey, still working his way back up the rankings after right elbow surgery a year ago, finished off a suspended second-round match, eliminating No. 21 Milos Raonic of Canada 6-7 (3), 7-6 (7), 7-6 (8), 6-4.
Seeded women who won included No. 1 Maria Sharapova, No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 8 Angelique Kerber and No. 15 Sabine Lisicki. Four-time major champion Kim Clijsters got through when No. 12 Vera Zvonareva, the 2010 Wimbledon runner-up, quit in the second set because of what she said was a respiratory infection, while 145th-ranked qualifier Camila Giorgi of Italy defeated No. 20 Nadia Petrova of Russia 6-3, 7-6 (6).
AP Tennis Writer Howard Fendrich contributed to this report.