Paris - French number one Jo-Wilfried Tsonga saw his hopes of reaching the season-ending World Tour Finals disappear on Tuesday after being eliminated from the Paris Masters by Japan's Kei Nishikori.
The former Australian Open finalist wasted two match points before double faulting in the final set tie-break to gift world number 18 Nishikori a place in the last-16.
Despite serving 18 aces, a lethargic Tsonga let the second round match slip from his grasp losing 6-1, 6-7 (4/7), 6-7 (7/9).
“I could have beaten many players today, and I believe he played a very solid match,” said Tsonga who admitted he wasn't fully fit.
“I believe he managed well, because I could have won that match. He was very solid, especially during the important moments of the match.
“Normally I shouldn't even be here. We even wondered if we would totally stop or if we would continue the season, and I decided to continue the season.
“I'm not in the Masters, but we decided to go to the end.”
It was due reward for the top ranked Asian player who refused to throw in the towel despite being overwhelmed in the opening frame.
The 23-year-old, who earlier this year became the first Japanese player to reach the fourth round of the French Open since 1938, now faces his third successive Frenchman in Richard Gasquet for a place in the quarter-finals.
Gasquet needed five match points earlier to beat Spaniard Fernando Verdasco 7-5, 6-7 (6/8), 6-3 in the second round and that along with the elimination of Tsonga gave him a double boost in his bid to qualify for the World Tour finals in London.
The right-hander from Beziers forced a crucial break in the deciding set to go 4-3 up and this time he kept his nerve after blowing two match points in the second set.
“I felt bad after the second set,” admitted Gasquet.
“I had two match points and I was close to winning the match. It could have turned around in his favour. I was lucky.” he added.
The win for Gasquet, who is clinging to the eighth and final place for London which is available as Andy Murray is injured, means Tsonga is now out of the picture while Canadian Milos Raonic can still oust the Frenchman with a strong run this week.
In the final match of the day, world number two Novak Djokovic was taken to a tie-break in the first set before beating French qualifier Pierre-Hugues Hubert, ranked 189 in the world, 7-6 (7/3), 6-3.
The Serbian six-time Grand Slam winner, who kept alive his hopes of reclaiming the number one spot from Rafael Nadal, now plays either American John Isner or Poland's Michal Przysiezny for a spot in the last-eight.
Earlier Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov continued his rich vein of form as he marched into the second round with a three-set win over French veteran Michael Llodra.
The lanky 22-year-old lost the opening set in a tie-break before taking control and setting up a meeting against Italian 16th seed Fabio Fognini with a 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 6-3.
Llodra's compatriot Nicolas Mahut fared better as he fired down eight aces to overwhelm Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov 7-6 (8/6), 6-1.
Mahut, who played the longest match in history against Isner at Wimbledon in 2010, broke the spirit of his opponent in the crucial opening set tie-break.
He faces 15th seeded compatriot Gilles Simon in an all-French second round tie, a player he met recently.
“Well, we played each other three weeks ago and I lost in straight sets,” said Mahut.
“But I'm going to use that match to do the same thing tomorrow (Wednesday), I hope I can win that match tomorrow.” added Mahut.
Spaniard Marcel Granollers will face compatriot Nadal on Wednesday after he breezed past Russian Dmitry Tursunov 6-4, 6-4.