World number one Novak Djokovic marched into the last 16 of the Paris Masters on Wednesday with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller.
Djokovic needed four set points before claiming the opener, with the Serb 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.”
The record four-time champion — winner of the last three editions of this tournament — will meet 14th seed Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the quarter-finals.
Djokovic, 29, must reach the final in the French capital to guarantee he extends his 122-week reign at the top of the rankings with Andy Murray rapidly closing in on the Serb.
Murray, who is chasing a fourth successive title following victories in Beijing, Shanghai and Vienna, takes on Fernando Verdasco in his opening match.
Dominic Thiem faces an anxious wait to see if he qualifies for the Tour finals in London after slumping to a 6-2, 6-4 defeat against Jack Sock.
Thiem entered this week’s tournament occupying one of the final two qualifying spots for London, but his second-round exit has left his place in the eight-man field vulnerable.
The Austrian dropped his opening service game against Sock, setting the tone for a dismal afternoon as the American blew away the sixth seed in under an hour.
Thiem has won four titles this season and reached the semi-finals of the French Open, but his subsequent dip in form could prove costly with five players still fighting for the remaining two London berths.
London race heats up
Marin Cilic, a winner in Basel at the weekend, further bolstered his chances of playing at the November 13-20 event by defeating compatriot Ivo Karlovic 7-6 (9/7), 6-2.
With Rafael Nadal calling an early end to his season, the Croat is eighth in the Race to London standings and will face David Goffin for a place in the quarter-finals.
Belgian Goffin is still in the hunt after beating Nicolas Mahut 7-6 (9/7), 6-2, while 2008 Paris champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga cruised past Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-3, 6-4.
However, Roberto Bautista Agut’s London bid ended as the Spaniard squandered three match points before going down 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8/6) to Gilles Simon.
The Frenchman plays Tomas Berdych next with the Czech looking to return to the Tour finals for a seventh straight year.
French 13th seed Lucas Pouille is out of the running, though, despite rallying to beat Feliciano Lopez 6-7 (1/7), 6-3, 6-4.
Pouille had arrived in the French capital with very slim qualification hopes but Cilic’s earlier victory eliminated him from contention.
Japanese fifth seed Kei Nishikori collected his 300th career win by knocking off Serbia’s Viktor Troicki 6-2, 7-5 to take his place in the last 16.
“I think it’s a great number,” said Nishikori.
“I’m not sure if it’s good or not. I don’t know how good that is, but, you know, just try to get one win every match, and just play one match at a time.”
Winner by knockout