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Monday, June 22, 2009

Djokovic slips past battling Benetteau

Photo Titled Djokovic feels the heat
World No.4 Novak Djokovic wipes away the disappointment of losing the opening set against first round opponent Julien Benneteau

Photo Titled Benneteau backhand
Frenchman Julien Benneteau during his first round defeat to Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.

fourth seed Novak Djokovic survived an endurance test against Frenchman Julien Benetteau to win through to the second round but he needed three hours and 28 minutes of concerted effort to complete the job.

Benettau, in his sixth Wimbledon, shocked Djokovic by winning a 61-minute first set but was hit by falls in the third game of the third set and the last game of the match, which did not help his cause and it allowed Djokovic to clinch victory 6-7 (10-8), 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 6-4 on his third match point.

Djokovic would have come into the match reminding viewers that, amid the hype over Roger Federer and Andy Murray, The Championships is more than just a two-horse race.

But he was given serious cause for thought when he lost the first set in just over an hour. It was a remarkably close set with not a single break point until the 12th game. Both players served well, Djokovic even hitting an ace with a second serve, and the Frenchman remaining accurate and persistent.

The first problem for Benettau came when he was 6-5 down and serving. At deuce, Djokovic hit a classic backhand winner for set point but the Frenchman saved that with a service winner. Benettau’s following ace and service winner forced a tie-break.

Djokovic had one set point but Benetteau had three and settled it 10-8 with a backhand down the line played behind Djokovic’s back.

The second set also had to be decided by a tie-break but the difference this time was that Djokovic won at a canter -7-1. The 22-year-old Serb began by hitting a fine cross court backhand against serve, which set the pace, then built on this with some variety of pace. He finally punched a backhand service return winner to square the match.

In the third set, Benetteau had already slipped 2-0 behind, when he literally slipped behind the baseline at deuce in the third game. He needed attention for some pain to his right side and although he was able to play on, Djokovic stretched his lead to 5-0 before Benetteau, to loud applause, took a game.

Djokovic appeared to have a routine service game to win the set but he double-faulted three times to lose the game. But the set still came to him 6-2 and, at last, he was in front.

The fourth set obviously gave the Serb a clearer target but Benetteau continued to show some fine touches even if he was now chasing the game.

But Djokovic did not lose focus and served out to lead 5-4 in a game that included his 14th ace.

In the next game, Benetteau saved a first match point with a service winner. A second match point went to Djokovic when Benetteau could not save a lob. But the Frenchman slid into the back of the court, injuring his left knee on the back surround as he did so and requiring a medical time-out to receive treatment. Djokovic crossed the court to sympathise with his opponent as an ice pack was applied.

Play resumed and Benetteau saved a second match point, but the third was beyond him. Benetteau missed a backhand and Djokovic was through.

And afterwards the former Australian Open champion insisted he was "very happy" to remain below the radar as the media focuses on Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

He said: "I've been playing really well in the last two, three years. Having won a Grand Slam in Australia, I put myself in the position to be a candidate for a Grand Slam title in each Grand Slam I have played.

"So right now, Andy Murray is in the spotlight, and he deserves it. And it's good. It releases kind of a little bit of pressure off me so I can play relaxed on the court."

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