Dubai - Triple Grand Slam titleholder Novak Djokovic had to fight hard before reaching the quarter-finals of the Dubai Open on Wednesday and moving to within one win of a possible rematch with Andy Murray.
Djokovic beat Sergei Stakhovsky, the dangerously hard-hitting world No 74 from Ukraine, by 7-6 (7/5), 6-3, but was break point down in the eighth game of the first set and a break of serve down early in the second set.
Another win could give Djokovic another semi-final with Murray, whom he overcame in a five-hour classic at the same stage of last month's Australian Open in Melbourne.
The hot, fast conditions suited Stakhovsky perfectly and Djokovic was sometimes forced to cover large areas of court and to show great resilience in containment and defence.
He also served well, serving his way out of trouble in the first set, and closing out the second set without a hint of inhibition, finishing with an ace.
"There are not many serve-volley players in the game now and Stakhovsky can attack from the baseline and the net. It was very close," Djokovic said.
"I was fortunate I got breaks when I needed them. As I get more matches I will get more rhythm."
He next plays his friend Janko Tipsarevic, a fellow Serbian Davis Cup player, who overcame Flavio Cipolla of Italy, 6-7 (7/2), 6-1, 6-1.
"It's great to have us both in the quarter-finals," Djokovic said.
Earlier the third-seeded Murray's bid to push on from his tremendous Australian performance carried him into the quarter-finals with a solid win over Marco Chiudinelli, the third best Swiss player, by 6-3, 6-4.
The performance suggested that, like Djokovic, he may already be re-building momentum again in his first tournament since the Australian Open.
"I played well throughout today," Murray said. "I played a little bit better, so that's progress. Now I just need to keep that going."
Murray established an early break of serve against Chiudinelli to reach 3-1 and consolidated the lead well, serving well and moving better than he had the day before against Michael Berrer.
Then the three-time Grand Slam finalist had complained of feeling unwell, and had gone 3-4 down in the second set.
But this time Murray kept out of trouble.
He almost broke serve again in the first game of the second set, and earned another break point in the seventh game, only for Chiudinelli to play those points well.
But in the ninth game Murray produced some of his most cogent and controlled rallying, outmanoeuvring his opponent to reach love-40 and then converting the second break point by luring Chiudinelli into over-hitting.
Murray then closed the match out by winning his service game to 15 and told the crowd how training in Florida had helped him cope with the rising Dubai temperatures, in the nineties on court.
"Conditions in Miami are hotter than this," he said. "I find the conditions here almost perfect. I'd been practising my serve quite a lot there and I think that went well today."
However Murray may have a tough task if he is to earn the chance of a rematch with Djokovic.
He next plays Tomas Berdych, the former Wimbledon finalist from the Czech Republic, who showed how much he likes fast surfaces in a 6-1, 6-2 win over Lukas Lacko, a qualifier from Slovakia.
Results on Wednesday from the Dubai Tennis Championships, an ATP event on outdoor hard courts at the Aviation Club (seedings in parentheses):
Andy Murray (3), Britain, def. Marco Chiudinelli, Switzerland, 6-3, 6-4.
Novak Djokovic (1), Serbia, def. Sergiy Stakhovsky, Ukraine, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3.
Tomas Berdych (5), Czech Republic, def. Lukas Lacko, Slovakia 6-1, 6-2.
Janko Tipsarevic (7), Serbia, def. Flavio Cipolla, Italy, 6-7 (7/2), 6-1, 6-1.