|Federer almost became the first champion in seven years to exit the first round [GALLO/GETTY]
Six-times champion Roger Federer came back from the brink of a dramatic first-round exit at Wimbledon, recovering from two sets down to beat gritty Colombian Alejandro Falla 5-7 4-6 6-4 7-6 6-0.
Federer, bidding for a record-equalling seventh men's singles title in London, was staring down the barrel as the south American world number 60 served for the match at 5-4 in the fourth set after producing a spellbinding display of baseline power and volleying guile.
"I did get lucky today," Federer said.
"I think I have got to be realistic: there was a big threat today.
"I don't think it has happened in many years, or possibly ever, that I have come back from two sets down in a first round.
"It was a tough match; he played really well."
The Swiss top seed had to recover from 4-4 0-40 on his serve in the third set and admitted: "The points that led up to 0-40 were not very convincing for me. My whole game was in disarray."
Back on track
Federer finally got back on track after being made to look second best for much of the match before a disbelieving Centre Court crowd.
He wrapped up the fourth set tiebreak 7-1, spurred on by chants of 'Roger, Roger' from the crowd as the two men changed ends.
Then he galloped through the decider in double quick time, avoiding the ignominy of being the first Wimbledon champion to fall at the first hurdle since Lleyton Hewitt in 2003.
Federer, who pummelled Falla for the loss of three games in the tune-up event in Halle last week, looked lost in the middle part of the match as the Colombian returned superbly, picked his advances to the net exquisitely and matched the 16-time grand slam winner stroke for stroke from the back of the court.
When Federer won the third, Falla, who had several bouts of treatment for cramp in his left thigh during changeovers, could have been expected to fold.
However, the Colombian, who had been dismissed as "cannon fodder" in an article in the day's official programme, broke in the opening game of the fourth, with Federer contributing to his total of seven double faults in the process.
Falla saved one break point at 5-4 with an ace but could not hold his nerve on the second, hitting a forehand long as the Federer fans erupted.
There was little doubt about the outcome when Federer took the match into a fifth set, which he won in 27 minutes.
Once the Swiss had gone two breaks up, Falla won only four more points in
the match and one of those came when Federer slipped on the grass and sat down.
The two men left Centre Court to a standing ovation, with the crowd reserving a special cheer for the valiant Falla.
"I am happy because I played a great match," Falla, who had not taken a set off Federer in four previous meetings, told a news conference.
He said nerves had got to him in the final set, after failing to take his earlier chances. "I started thinking what a big opportunity I had just missed and he started playing better and better."
Federer will face Serbian qualifier Ilija Bozoljac in round two.