Andy Murray laboured past a determined Fernando Verdasco to reach the last 16 of the Paris Masters on Wednesday and keep the pressure on world number one Novak Djokovic.
Murray is seeking to end Djokovic’s l22-week reign at the top, but the Briton was pushed to the limit by Verdasco in the French capital before prevailing 6-3, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5.
The second seed raced through the opening set but was forced into a decider after Verdasco, who had lost in the first round in five of his past six tournaments, levelled in a tie-break.
The Spaniard then saw two break points pass him by at 5-all in the third set, with Murray breaking the following game to finally end Verdasco’s resistance.
“It wasn’t the best match from my side. I got through it. I will play better tomorrow,” said Murray after sealing his 70th win of the season.
“I didn’t get any time on that court, because matches are from 11:00 in the morning and guys have warmup. So I have hit for like 45 minutes on the court beforehand, and it’s very different to last week, very different conditions.”
Murray, a winner in Beijing, Shanghai and Vienna in his past three events, will continue his assault on Djokovic when he faces Lucas Pouille for a place in the quarter-finals.
Djokovic, the record four-time champion, marched into the third round with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller.
The Serb needed four set points before claiming the opener, with Djokovic then breaking at 4-all in the second to extend his Paris winning streak to 16 matches.
“It was great to start off the way I did today,” said Djokovic.
“Not an easy opponent, definitely, because he serves and volleys, and I found the conditions quite quick, quicker maybe than they have been last year.
“But nevertheless, I think I managed to find the right rhythm, right pace from the very beginning.”
Djokovic — winner of the last three editions of this tournament — will meet 14th seed Grigor Dimitrov on Thursday.
The 29-year-old must reach the final in Paris to guarantee he extends his stay at number one with Murray rapidly closing in on the Serb.