Wow, I’m still recovering from Roger Federer’s third round encounter with Julien Benneteau, a player that GTT OGs may remember me poking fun at in the past for the crime of being . . .superflu. Well, Julien finally earned my ire, and a bit of respect, with his near knockout performance over Roger Federer on Friday. He was within a couple points of the biggest victory of his career and the second biggest Wimbledon upset in the last 24 hours before succumbing to the will and whims of the tennis gods. Federer won the match: 4-6, 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-1
During the French, I was fascinated by Roger’s expressions on court, and tried to differentiate between what was stony reserve (seen in portions of say Fed vs. Goffin) and what was numb indifference (the agony of Fed vs. Nole). Now, I’m realizing that win or lose, this kind of inscrutability is one of Roger’s most basic weapons – like a beetle’s shell – and by nature much more consistent than his first serve or forehand.
Benneteau explained Roger’s ways after the match (via Tennis.com):
“Mentally he’s a rock. He’s two sets down and he doesn’t show anything. After that, if your level is a little bit lower, right here, right now he takes the opportunity. He has a capacity also to improve his game during the match. He was more aggressive right after I serve the first shot of the rally, he tried to hit the ball stronger and to be more aggressive, and you feel it when you are on the opposite side. So you have to be focused every point, every point against him. You cannot make any mistakes. If you don’t make the right shot tactically at the right place, you lose the point almost. So it’s tough. Two sets down and he’s a champion. He arrive to win this match in five sets, and he was not in control. I think he was a little bit not panicked, but not comfortable. But at the end of the day he’s here; he doesn’t make any mistakes. At the end of the fourth set his serve was incredible. Only first serve, only first serve, only first serve. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
Roger referenced that same internal reserve in his post match presser (via Tennis.com):
“I was more panicky midway through the second set. I guess when I sat down, I said, ‘All right, here we go now. Match has only just started.’ I tried to stay calm, and I was.”
Of course I can only imagine how calm the rest of you were. I was at work when Fritters started texting me things like “WTF! Benneteau is up a BREAK!” and “Benneteau is pulling a Rosol!” etc. Even watching the action after the fact frayed my nerves. But I still kept close measure of the set of Roger’s chin and the way it dipped mere millimeters after netting a forehand or flubbing a volley, and of the dull glint in his eyes as he stared into space during a changeover. I realized that he wasn’t actually giving in to defeat or simply trying to look aloof in the face of humiliation. When you’re the captain, you must stay calm in a storm, if only to have the strength to go down with the ship.
So the H.M.S. Federer lives to sail another day. I’m glad he has the weekend to recover. Or maybe I’m the one who needs the recovery time? I’m sure his dad, who even Roger noticed was “freaking out” during the match, is right there with me.