MONACO (AP) — Eight-time champion Rafael Nadal saved 15 of 17 break points, and Andy Murray rallied from a set and 3-0 down as both advanced to the Monte Carlo Masters quarterfinals on Thursday.
Nadal scampered around the clay to retrieve forehands from Dominic Thiem and beat the Austrian 7-5, 6-3. Murray came back to defeat an erratic Benoit Paire of France 2-6, 7-5, 7-5.
“I never gave up in all these tough moments,” Nadal said. “You need matches like this. You need to suffer on court.”
Roger Federer had little trouble by comparison, beating Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-2, 6-4 as he came through his second match unscathed after arthroscopic surgery on Feb. 3 for torn cartilage.
“I’m happy how the body is, that I was able to play two matches already here, and get a chance to play a third,” Federer said. “I’m getting closer to the peak in the sense of maximum movement.”
Nadal, arguably the greatest clay-court player in history, struggled in the first set against Thiem, facing 16 of the 17 break points.
At 4-4, and with each player having dropped serve once, Thiem missed six chances to break Nadal. On the last one, Thiem let a lob go thinking it was going out, and watched it land in.
The Spaniard clenched his fist after holding that tough game, and then broke Thiem when the Austrian double-faulted on set point.
“Some of the break points he played very well so I didn’t have a chance, but there were also some where I really had some easy shots,” said Thiem, who converted only one of 16 chances on top-ranked Novak Djokovic’s serve in the third round of the Miami Masters two weeks ago. “Of course, it’s very frustrating. I will try to convert more break points in the next matches.”
After Thiem broke Nadal to love in the third game of the second set for a 2-1 lead, Nadal quickly regained momentum and broke Thiem two more times to set up a quarterfinal against Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 champion.
“If you look at the past year, we can see his level has slightly decreased,” Wawrinka, the French Open champion, said of 14-time Grand Slam winner Nadal. “But a champion like him is still able to win big titles.”
Murray had an even closer match, but he also managed to reach the quarterfinals, winning 19 of 29 points at the net.
“To win when you’re not playing particularly well, it’s a great effort,” Murray said. “It would have been easy to lose today and get down on myself. But I kept fighting.”
Paire had 47 winners among a number of eye-catching shots, but the Frenchman also made 52 unforced errors. He had eight aces and seven double-faults.
Paire also lost his composure at key moments, double-faulting when serving for the match and again on match point.
“He played a bad game at 3-0 in the second to give me one of the breaks back,” Murray said. “I felt like I was in with a chance then.”
Murray next plays Milos Raonic of Canada, who had 12 aces in beating 99th-ranked Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia and Herzegovina 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (5).
“Raonic has come through a couple of tough ones as well,” Murray said. “Maybe this week he hasn’t played his best either.”
Wawrinka advanced by routing Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-2, breaking the Frenchman’s serve five times.
Since losing his first 12 matches against Nadal, Wawrinka has won three of their past five encounters, including the final of the 2014 Australian Open, his first major.
The day after beating Djokovic in the second round for the biggest win of his career, 55th-ranked Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic lost to Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-2.