Wimbledon was still coming to terms with Nadal’s shock second-round exit as Federer took to the court, but the Swiss player ran into trouble as his French opponent claimed a formidable two-set lead.
Nadal, a finalist in the last five years he has played, was dumped out by unknown Lukas Rosol late on Thursday, blowing the bottom half of the men’s draw wide open.
However, six-time Wimbledon champion Federer is in the top half along with Novak Djokovic and remained on course to match Pete Sampras’ all-time record of seven titles by coming back to win 4-6 6-7 (7/3) 6-2 7-6 (8/6) 6-1.
Benneteau had Federer where he wanted when leading 6-5 and with 15-30 against the serve in the fourth set, but the danger was averted.
Earlier in the day and also in round three, Djokovic made a shaky start but saw off Radek Stepanek 4-6 6-2 6-2 6-2 and now faces fellow Serb Viktor Troicki on Monday after he saw off Argentinian Juan Monaco in straight sets, 7-5 7-5 6-3.
French number 18 seed Richard Gasquet overpowered Spain’s Nicolas Almagro to win 6-3 6-4 6-4.
He will face German Florian Mayer, who saw off big-serving Polish player Jerzy Janowicz to claim victory over five sets — 7-6 (7/5) 3-6 2-6 6-3 7-5.
Janko Tipsarevic was unable to join compatriot Djokovic in the fourth round after he was beaten by Mikhail Youzhny.
Also victorious was American Sam Querrey who got the better of Canadian Milos Raonic after a 6-7 (7/3) 7-6 (9/7) 7-6 (10/8) 6-4 victory. He acknowledged the task of everyone in the bottom half has been made slightly easier by Nadal’s shock early exit.
“It’s going to be someone new now [in the final],” Querrey said. “It’s a possibility for someone else to get to the final and possibly win it.”
In the women’s singles, top seed Maria Sharapova eased into the fourth round with a comfortable win over Su-Wei Hsieh.
The French Open champion and world No 1 broke serve three times in the opening set and then recovered from a break behind in the first game of the second to take the match 6-1 6-4.
Sharapova’s reward for beating the 26-year-old Chinese Taipei player is a fourth-round meeting on Monday with Germany’s Sabine Lisicki — the player she beat at the semi-final stage last year.
Lisicki, the 15th seed this year, secured her passage into the last 16 with a 7-6 (7/5) 1-6 6-2 win over Sloane Stephens on Court Three.
Sharapova said of her win over Hsieh: “She was a tricky opponent.
“She changed the pace really well and her serve is really tricky. The conditions were tough, I had to face a lot out there and be patient.”
The 25-year-old is relishing the match-up with Lisicki in the next round.
“That’s a tough one,” Sharapova said. “She did extremely well last year. She is a very good player on grass and I look forward to it.”
Kim Clijsters, in her last Wimbledon, also moved into the fourth round after she benefited from the retirement of Vera Zvonareva in the second set of their match.
Three-time US Open champion Clijsters had just broken serve to lead 6-3 4-3 when her Russian opponent, who had earlier taken a medical time-out, opted to call it a day.