By Jane Voigt
When Julien Benneteau plays Roger Federer diehard “Fed” fans gasp. They shouldn’t.
The record book solidly favors Federer. Their head-to-head is 5-2 Federer, meaning … it’s not likely the Frenchman will win any match against the maestro. Let’s call that the Zen perspective.
Anyone, though, with a lick of pro tennis insight knows that the line between win and lose at this level is so narrow the number approaches zero … from a calculus perspective, that is.
Example … their first set today at the Shanghai Rolex Masters ended in a tiebreak. A thrilling tiebreak. Miraculous net cords fell favor to Federer. Benneteau returned favor when he blocked a bullet forehand drive right to his stomach, and won the point. Bam. Bam. More tit-for-tat. They changed ends at 3-3. And then … bye bye Benny. He earned another point, but let’s face it he was doomed because Roger was in no mood for cute circus-like tennis.
Federer hit an ace. And, finally, smacked a short cross-court backhand service return that stung the bee-gumption out of his opponent so much so he lost his opening game to begin set two. And it continued. 6-0 Federer in the second, when in the first set there were zero break points. Eleven aces total for the match for Federer. 76(4) 60.
What people remember though, and fear, is the return of the Benneteau Federer faced in the third round of Wimbledon, 2012. Five sets. Breathtaking persistence and mental might from Benneteau, pushing Federer to the nth degree on his sacred cow court.
Federer lost the first two sets, blasted through the third, and squeaked out the fourth in a tiebreak. Benneteau’s magic was unveiled. He lost 6-1 in the fifth, not a set score too unfamiliar considering today’s episode.
Roger’s next round — the semifinals — will be a doozy. He faces Novak Djokovic who defeated David Ferrer, 64 62, today. Djokovic is on a 22-0 win streak in China and seems to have gotten the rotting part of his game together — his mind — although the Asian swing has always been a performance-enhancing stomping ground for the Serb.
But, and yet, no one … no one, ever discounts Federer’s chances. Tomorrow’s semifinal will be his 11th of the year. He has three titles for the year. His momentum is on the rise at about as steep a rate as Djokovic’s, too. On Monday, Federer will supplant Rafael Nadal at the No. 2 spot in the rankings.
Federer’s and Djokovic’s head-to-head is 18-17, but we’ve been through that.