London - Roger Federer set pulses racing as he diced with danger for more than three hours before dousing the fireworks of French buccaneer Julien Benneteau with a pulsating 4-6 6-7 6-2 7-6 6-1 Wimbledon third-round win on Friday.
Just 24 hours after Rafa Nadal's unlikely demise, Benneteau sent shockwaves of equal magnitude around the All England Club as he destroyed Federer during the first two sets with ferocious forehands, belting backhands and audacious reflex shots.
When the Frenchman stood two points from victory in the 12th game of the fourth set, and again in the tiebreak, it seemed as if Federer's incredible streak of reaching 32 consecutive grand slam quarter-finals or better would end on the Swiss's much-loved Centre Court arena.
But fraying nerves is not the sign of a champion who has won a record 16 grand slam titles, including six Wimbledon crowns, and he did not flinch once as he withstood Benneteau's onslaught to steer the match into a fifth set.
Once there, the zing suddenly went out of Benneteau's previously supercharged legs.
He appeared like a man waking through treacle as he limped between points and even called on the trainer to massage his exhausted limbs back to life but it was to little avail as Federer raced through the final set.
When the Swiss third seed brought up three match points and was waiting to deliver his final serve, a distraught Benneteau could not even face reality as he covered his eyes with his hand and turned his back to the net.
But he could not delay the inevitable forever and the man who had come so close to pulling off one of the biggest ever shocks surrendered his Wimbledon hopes by paddling a tired shot into the net.
It left the Swiss master to savour a near escape, 15,000 anxious Centre Court fans to sigh in relief and a dejected Benneteau to contemplate what might have been.
"Oh my God, it was brutal. Bit of luck in my side maybe. I fought till the very end. I tried in the third, fourth and fifth just to stay alive - in the fourth it was so close," a hugely relieved Federer said after surviving the three hour, 34 minute test played out under a closed roof despite the absence of rain.
"Julien was playing amazingly. When you're down two sets to love you have to stay calm even though it's hard because people are freaking out.
"You obviously don't have many lives left out there and you just try to play tough and focus point to point.
"Indoors is not what we're quite used to on grass and I'm happy I got this one out of the way," added the third seed, who will next face Belgium's Xavier Malisse.
Federer has long held the belief that best-of-five-set matches favour the top players as "a spell or two or five bad minutes" could be costly on grass.
On Friday, Federer, who is bidding to become the first 30-something man since Arthur Ashe in 1975 to lift the Challenge Cup, backed up his theory.
At 6-5 up in the second set Federer edged to within a point of levelling the match to one set all. Three times he held set point and three times he watched Benneteau go for broke.
Benneteau's blazing forehand sent the chalk flying on the first set point, his ace whizzed past Federer's ears on the second and the Frenchman drew gasps of admiration as he produced a jaw-dropping dropshot on the third.
Surviving a game that had stretched to seven deuces and three break points energised Benneteau and he roared through the tiebreak 7-3, leaving Federer teetering on the edge.
But just as he had done on seven previous occasions, the Swiss dug himself out from a two-set hole to spark jubilant celebrations among his Centre Court fans, may of whom who had turned up wearing an array of whacky earrings, hats, dungarees and even sunglasses monogrammed with his signature RF initials.
"Mentally he's a rock. He's two sets down and he doesn't show anything," said Benneteau, who admitted for a fleeting moment before the start of the fifth set he thought he could following in the footsteps of Nadal's conqueror Lukas Rosol.
"It was a magic moment, for sure but (it lasted) just like one second."