London:Fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic had to rally from a set down on Monday in a surprisingly tough first-round match with Julien Benneteau, who needed an injury timeout in the final game after smashing into the Centre Court wall.
The 2008 Australian Open champion needed 3 1/2 hours to overcome the 81st-ranked Benneteau 6-7 (8), 7-6 (1) 6-2, 6-4.
"Maybe it's good that I got some longer rallies at the start of the tournament," said Djokovic, who reached the final at the Halle grass-court tournament a week ago. "I knew I would have to work for most of the points throughout the match because of the quality of my opponent. When you play best of five, it's important to be physically fit, and convinced and confident in yourself so you can rely on your strength in long matches."
The players said the fresh grass was slippery, and Benneteau also needed treatment after losing his footing and falling awkwardly in the third set, twisting his hip.
The first two sets resembled a clay-court match, with long baseline rallies as the 27-year-old Benneteau matched Djokovic stroke for stroke. The Frenchman won the tense first-set tiebreaker by wrongfooting the Serb after supplying a deft drop shot.
Djokovic took early control of the second tiebreaker, however, mixing the pace and winning with a commanding backhand down the line.
Djokovic finally broke the tiring Benneteau's serve for the first time in the second game of the third set. He raced to a 5-0 lead before losing concentration and allowing Benneteau to earn two games in a row. But the Frenchman then hit a forehand wide to hand Djokovic the set.
Benneteau saved a break point at 4-3 down in the fourth set, but couldn't hold his serve the next time. Chasing a lob at full speed, Benneteau slipped when he tried to pull up and crashed into the wall behind the baseline, thumping his knees.
He writhed in agony clutching his leg and needed ice treatment before resuming and saving a match point. But Djokovic was too strong and wrapped up the match two points later when the Frenchman sent a shot wide.
"From the point of view of the tennis and commitment, it was a real Grand Slam match," Benneteau said. "I played very, very well. I prefer matches with that sort of intensity."
Benneteau said his knee was swollen.
"But I hope it's just impact and nothing more serious," he said. "From the moment the trainer put ice on my knee, it felt better."