Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic returns a shot against Gilles Muller, of Luxembourg, during their singles match at the Japan Open mens tennis tournament in Tokyo, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
PARIS (AP) Tomas Berdych avoided another early exit by beating Joao Sousa 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 on Tuesday to reach the third round of the Paris Masters.
At 4-4 in the deciding set, Berdych trailed 15-40 and saved two break points.
Although Berdych won the Shenzhen Open in China last month, the Czech player's form dropped sharply with first-round exits at the Japan Open and the Erste Bank Open in Vienna. In between, there was a second-round loss at the Shanghai Masters.
Article continues below ...
Losing so many ranking points forced Berdych out of the top 10 for the first time since reaching the 2010 Wimbledon final. It also leaves him needing to reach the semifinals in Paris to have a chance of qualifying for the season-ending ATP finals in London – a difficult task considering he could face Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.
''If you don't play your best, you don't really deserve to be there,'' Berdych said. ''Luckily, I'm healthy. Who would have said that I'd be answering questions about London when I was in the hospital in Cincinnati? This is a nice bonus.''
Berdych was referring to the appendicitis that forced him out of this year's U.S. Open.
Even though his play looked patchy at times against Sousa, at least his serving was strong with 14 aces, including a couple of booming ones on second serve.
Berdych is hopeful that working with coach Goran Ivanisevic – the big-serving Croat who won Wimbledon in 2001 – will help improve his game.
''I like his approach and how he tries to simplify things for me,'' the 31-year-old Berdych said. ''Hopefully I can get to the point where I can start to use his experience in all the big matches he's played.''
Berdych, the 2005 Paris Masters champion, will next face either 10th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut or Gilles Simon.
Seven players are vying for the two remaining spots in London.
Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic, who won the Swiss Indoors on Sunday, held the last two places before this week. David Goffin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Lucas Pouille and Bautista Agut are the other contenders playing in Paris.
John Isner had 14 aces as he reached the second round by beating Mischa Zverev 7-6 (8), 6-4. Isner saved the only break point he faced in the first set and broke Zverev's serve early in the second.
Isner will next play 15th-seeded David Ferrer, who has beaten the big-serving American seven times in eight meetings. Isner's only win, however, was in the quarterfinals in Paris five years ago.
Also in the first round, Jack Sock beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-2, 7-6 (3); Feliciano Lopez defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6 (3), 6-4; Nicolas Mahut beat Martin Klizan 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; and Viktor Troicki saved two match points before defeating Adrian Mannarino 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (5).