Paris: Rafael Nadal kept winning the hard way at the Paris Masters, edging past fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo 6-3 3-6 7-5 to reach the quarter-finals.
Nadal, who saved five match points before taming Nicolas Almagro in another all-Spanish battle on Wednesday, needed two hours and 20 minutes to shrug off a brave challenge from Robredo, seeded 14th in the indoor event.
Robredo had his chances, serving for the match in the third set, leading 5-4, after Nadal dropped serve with a double fault.
Nadal then lived up to his reputation as a fierce competitor, breaking back immediately and capturing Robredo's serve again two games later to seal victory.
The first match point was wasted by Nadal but on the second Robredo hit a forehand wide to bow out.
Roger Federer's second-round exit in the French capital on Wednesday means Nadal stands an outside chance of finishing the year as world number one.
Before contemplating that he must beat defending Paris Masters champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the world number nine, for a place in the last four.
Tsonga stayed in contention for a berth at the World Tour Finals in London by downing fellow Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-2 6-3.
France will have two players in the quarter-finals for the first time since 1992 after 15th seed Gael Monfils posted a 6-4 6-3 win over Julien Benneteau, who looked exhausted after his shock victory over Federer in the previous round.
Britain's world number four Andy Murray looked tired, too, when he lost 1-6 6-3 6-4 to Czech Radek Stepanek.
Despite having battled for over two hours to beat James Blake on Wednesday, finishing in the middle of the night, Murray started well against Stepanek, relying on his strong serve, but then collapsed, making many unforced errors.
''Obviously, I was not at my best but I was not expecting to (be),'' Murray told reporters. ''It was four o'clock by the time I got to bed and that's not the ideal preparation for a match.''
Murray will now rest before going to London where he could meet Swede Robin Soderling, who kept alive his slim hopes of entering the year-end event by beating Russia's Nikolay Davydenko 6-3 3-6 6-4.
World number seven Davydenko, seeded sixth in a tournament he won in 2006, secured a spot at the World Tour Finals despite losing on Thursday, courtesy of fellow contender Fernando Verdasco's 3-6 6-3 6-4 defeat by Croatia's Marin Cilic.
Soderling goes on to meet world number three Novak Djokovic, who cruised past Frenchman Arnaud Clement 6-2 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals in Paris for the first time.
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