Olympics: Federer d. Benneteau
There was just enough about Roger Federer’s second-round matchup today to make his fans worries. Two days ago, against Alejandro Falla, Federer had squandered a lead and dropped a set. Now he was playing Julien Benneteau, a man who had built, and squandered, his own lead against Federer at Wimbledon less than a month ago. Benneteau won the first two sets that day. With the two men playing best of three today, a start that slow would be enough to put Federer out of the tournament.
Any worries along those lines were put to rest immediately—Federer essentially had this match won by the third point of the second game. Serving at 0-1, 15-15, Benneteau came in on a wide serve and had an easy putaway forehand volley. Except that he didn’t quite put it away. He left it hanging in the middle of the court just long enough for Federer to make a last-ditch break for it, put up a high defensive lob that landed on the baseline, and win the point for 15-30. A minute or so later, Benneteau, rattled, made a routine error and was broken. After that (very typical) piece of opportunistic play, Federer was off to the races. He broke Benneteau four times and didn’t face a break point himself in an exceptionally routine 6-2, 6-2 win.
It’s hard to gauge exactly how well Federer played, considering that the Frenchman hobbled his way through the second set with an injury. I was surprised afterward to learn that Federer made only 66 percent of his first serves—that’s not a bad number, but it felt like it was higher. In part that’s because Federer, on the few points that mattered, used his first delivery well. Down 2-4 in the first set on Federer’s serve, Benneteau attacked well enough to get from 40-15 to deuce. But Federer snuffed out any hint of a rally by sliding a good serve out wide, which set up a forehand winner into the open court. Benneteau made another brief push at the beginning of the second set, saving a break point to get to 1-all, and hitting a forehand winner to start Federer’s service game. Federer’s response? An ace, a good wide serve to set up a forehand, and a handcuffing body serve to hold. On this evidence, it seems highly likely that Federer’s serve is going to rescue him against a tougher opponent at some point during this tournament.
Today it wasn’t necessary. Federer won 80 percent of his first serve points, hit 24 winners against seven errors, and never had to save a break point. By the last game, Benneteau was struggling to move off his baseline, so Federer threw in a drop shot return of serve to reach match point. This man of many talents, it turns out, even has a flair for the cruel.