Monte Carlo: Murray, Federer, Nadal enter last 8

Murray made a recovery from a set and two breaks down in the second set as he turned the tide in stuttering fashion against the Frenchman. Nadal too made it to the quarterfinals with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Thiem on Thursday.

Andy Murray of Britain reacts after missing a point against Benoit Paire of France .   -  REUTERS

Andy Murray fought though a roller-coaster finish while Rafael Nadal had to hold off a young pretender as both seeds managed wins into the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters on Thursday.

Murray, seeded second and target man of the week after the second-round elimination of Novak Djokovic, scratched out a narrow 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 win over Benoit Paire.

Roger Federer advanced with a routine 6-4, 6-2 win over Roberto Bautista Agut. Federer has finished runner-up four times at the clay-court event and he took a step closer to winning an elusive title by breezing past Bautista Agut.

The 17-time grand slam champion needed only 32 minutes to wrap up the first set, Bautista Agut wilting at the first sign of pressure on his serve in the fifth game of the match. He will now face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Lucas Pouille in the last eight.

Nadal, the eight-time tournament winner, had to save 15 break points against Dominic Thiem to avoid a second upset loss this season to the 22-year-old Austrian talent. The Spanish fifth seed finally prevailed 7-5, 6-3 in two hours to put behind a semifinal loss he took against Thiem two months ago in Buenos Aires on clay.

Nadal will next play fellow Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka, who put away Frenchman Gilles Simon 6-1, 6-2. Murray will take on the big serve of Milos Raonic in a Friday quarter-final after the Canadian defeated Bosnian Damir Dzumhur 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7/5). Murray stands 5-4 over Raonic, and defeated the Canadian in an Australian Open semifinal in January.

Murray made a recovery from a set and two breaks down in the second set against Paire as he turned the tide in stuttering fashion against the Frenchman, who admitted this week that his tennis is plagued by doubts and a serious case of nerves. He proved that point by double-faulting for the eighth time on a Murray match point to end the struggle after more than two and a half hours. The 22nd-ranked Paire also served twice for victory without success. The Scotsman called his victory "a big win".

"To win from 6-2, 3-0 down, two breaks, when you're not playing particularly well, it's a great effort. These matches are important. It would have been easy to lose today and get down on myself. But I kept fighting right the way through to the end," said Murray.

"The second set was a lot of ups and downs. I didn't feel like in the third set that was the case so much. It was a good one to get through because I could have easily lost today. Conditions were pretty quick conditions. It wasn't wasn't windy down on the court, not too hot. It was all right."

Paire ended with 52 unforced errors and 47 winners as he and Murray faced off for the first time. Murray is under pressure this clay season, with title defences in both Munich and Madrid fast approaching.

The 28-year-old has shown only modest results so far in 2016, a season interrupted for almost a month by the birth of his daughter in February only a few days after losing the Australian Open final to Djokovic.

Murray remains the highest seed in contention this week in the Principality after Djokovic was knocked out in his opening match by Czech Jiri Vesely.Murray, a 2009 and 2011 semifinalist, is into his third quarterfinal of the season. He has now won his last 11 matches against Frenchmen since losing to Simon in Rotterdam quarters in February, 2015.

Results:

Men's Singles Round 3 matches on Thursday: 3-Roger Federer (Switzerland) bt 14-Roberto Bautista (Spain) 6-2, 6-4; 13-Gael Monfils (France) bt Jiri Vesely (Czech Republic) 6-1, 6-2; 5-Rafa Nadal (Spain) bt 12-Dominic Thiem (Austria) 7-5, 6-3; 4-Stanislas Wawrinka (Switzerland) beat 15-Gilles Simon (France) 6-1 6-2 2-Andy Murray (Britain) bt 16-Benoit Paire (France) 2-6, 7-5, 7-5; 10-Milos Raonic (Canada) bt Damir Dzumhur (Bosnia and Herzegovina) 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(5)