WIMBLEDON, England -- The great ones manage to find a way, which in part is the reason they are great. Roger Federer seemed destined to follow Rafael Nadal out of Wimbledon in this unpredictable first week but instead remains a factor and one of the favorites.
Six times in a long match under the translucent roof of Centre Court, Federer, the six-time champion and No. 3 seed, was two points from losing to Frenchman Julien Benneteau.
But in his postmatch disappointment, after Federer hung on and hung in, 4-6, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 7-6 (6), 6-1, in their third-round battle Friday, Benneteau offered a reminder of how difficult it is to beat him.
"Mentally, he's a rock,'' said Benneteau, the 29th seed and a winner over Federer in the 2009 Paris Masters. "He's two sets down, and he doesn't show anything.''
Not quite correct. What Federer, the 16-time major singles winner showed some five weeks before his 31st birthday was he still has the resolve and the shots.
"At the beginning of the third set, I was a little bit not as good as I was during the first two sets,'' said Benneteau, who also is 30. "And in five minutes, it's 4-0. He has the capacity to improve his game during the match. He was more aggressive right after I served the first shot of the rally . . . and you feel it when you are on the opposite side."
Many in the crowd felt the match would produce another upset, although not of the epic proportion of Thursday night, when Lukas Rosol, 100th in the rankings, stunned No. 2 seed and two-time Wimbledon winner Rafael Nadal.
"Two sets down,'' Benneteau said of Federer, "and he's a champion. I think he was a little bit, not panicked, but not comfortable. But at the end of the day, he's here.''
Federer faced the same situation in the French Open quarterfinals this month against Juan Martin del Potro. Down two sets, he rallied to win in five, as he did against Benneteau.
"I have been there so many times that I also know how to handle the situation,'' Federer said. "But on grass, I knew it was going to be a different animal, and I'm happy to weather the storm out there today.''
It was the threat of a storm, and a brief period of rain -- very brief -- which Wimbledon execs used as their reason for closing the roof before the early afternoon match in which No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic dropped a set but beat Radek Stepanek, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. Once the roof is closed, that match has to finish indoors. However, it's then up to the referee to decide whether to reopen it before the next match. On Friday, it stayed closed even though the rain never reappeared.
Djokovic didn't like a roof with blue sky overhead. Federer said the elements -- the wind, the sun setting -- were taken out of the equation, making play more consistent.
Benneteau, who never has won an ATP event, said: "It was beautiful. No wind. It was a little bit hot -- not hot but humid. The best player of all time in front of me. It was perfect.''
Especially for Roger Federer.