Roland Garros Rematch: Can Julien Benneteau Upset Roger Federer Again?
This two-part series will explore the third round matchups of the top two seeds from Roland Garros, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Each will be facing an opponent who has defeated them in the past 12 months, and we will highlight how these underdogs pulled off their upsets and if they could possibly do it again.
The Setting: ATP 500 Rotterdam, Indoor Hardcourt
The Upset: Their quarterfinal match was their second meeting since Wimbledon last year. That match was the closest Federer came to losing that tournament, as Benneteau took the first two sets in impressive fashion. Benneteau had a chance when he took the fourth set to a tiebreak, but couldn’t earn a chance at a match point.
The Frenchman got his revenge at Rotterdam, though, when he took out Federer in straight sets. Federer is widely known as the best indoor player of all time, but he wasn’t on that day in February. Federer’s first serve couldn’t be found at times and he hit a lot of bad errors throughout the match.
That should in no way detract from what Benneteau did. His game gave Federer problems even when the Swiss was at his best. Benneteau hung in a lot of points and played with a controlled level of aggression. He didn’t hit Federer off the court like Berdych, Tsonga, or Del Potro do when they beat Fed. Benneteau just played a solid game, keeping Federer off-balance and taking chances when they arose. It was grinding, it was tough, and it was finding ways to win points after most players would have given up on them.
Federer’s low first-serve percentage (56%) was definitely a factor, but what went unnoticed is that Benneteau did an incredible job of neutralizing Federer’s first serve when it went in. Federer only won 67% of his first-serve points. Benneteau also took control of Federer’s second serve, as Federer only won 33% of the points in which he hit a second ball. The Frenchman broke Federer an incredible five times on an indoor hard court. That’s Djokovic-level returning, even if Federer’s game was a bit off.
Can he do it again: Federer was clearly not at his best when Benneteau beat him. Benneteau, for whatever reason, is one of the best in the world at neutralizing Federer’s most powerful weapon—his serve. Benneteau can stay close to Federer even when Federer is at his best, as evidenced in Wimbledon last year. If Benneteau is not at his best, however, he doesn’t have much of a chance.
Federer will come out looking for revenge. The pair have never met on clay, but the change of surface certainly helps Benneteau more than it helps Federer. Federer hasn’t lost before the quarterfinals of a Slam since 2004 and it would still be a shock of Benneteau could pull this off. Federer should certainly expect a long, and tough, day at the office though and the outcome isn’t as definite as it usually is in these early-round matches for him.