Top-ranked Roger Federer lost to Julien Benneteau of France 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 in the second round of the Paris Masters on Wednesday, continuing his miserable run at the indoor event.

The 15-time Grand Slam champion still has never been further than the quarterfinals in seven appearances.

"He played incredible at the end. Julien went out and got the victory," said Federer, who refused to give excuses. "I definitely had chances. I missed them. I feel fine physically, and mentally I was fresh to do really well here."

Federer's exit capped a dramatic day at the Bercy arena, where Rafael Nadal saved five match points to beat Spanish compatriot Nicolas Almagro, and former three-time champion Marat Safin bidfarewell to the tennis circuit.

Federer took the first set when Benneteau's backhand return hit the net, but the Frenchman found his range in the second set and dominated the tiebreaker, leveling the match with a low return that landed just inside the baseline.

"I didn't have my rhythm from the baseline. Every time I had a chance he was winning the point," Federer said.

Boosted by the first set he'd taken off Federer in three matches, Benneteau forced mistakes on Federer's backhand as the Swiss star rushed his shots. Benneteau broke early and then held to lead 3-1.

Federer missed his chance in the fifth game when Benneteau saved two break points, and then held for 4-2.

Benneteau smacked a two-handed crosscourt winner past a startled Federer to set up two match points, acing the first one and falling to the floor in tears. Federer contested the call but was already at the net and ready to shake hands when the call was upheld.

"It's magic. It's fabulous. Everything you can imagine. The memories will stay with me forever," Benneteau said. "Hearing the crowd when they are all behind you, the noise is enormous. I didn't

believe it was possible to experience something like this."

The early loss, however, does give Federer more time to prepare for the ATP World Tour Finals in London this month.

"I hope I can at least make a good run there, because I really feel like I have some good tennis left in me," Federer said. "Not going to let my head hang after this tournament."

Fourth-seeded Andy Murray fired 21 aces in beating James Blake of the United States 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4) in a match which finished long after midnight. Neither player could break the other in the last two sets.

Playing his last ATP event before retiring, Safin treated the crowd at the Bercy arena _ as he had so often since 1999 _ to some terrific baseline winners, a fine touch at the net and strong first serves. But he had to bow to U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

"I knew that I had not many chances to beat him," Safin said following a small ceremony on center court. "But I played pretty well, had pretty close calls and had a chance."

Del Potro will next take on 10th-seeded Fernando Gonzalez, who defeated John Isner of the United States 7-5, 7-6 (3).

Nadal, who has never won the Paris Masters, edged Almagro 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5, saving all the match points at the end of the second set.

"I am very lucky to be in (the next) round," Nadal said. "I played bad. I won. That's one positive thing that I had all my career, and it's important (I) don't lose this ability to win matches when you are not playing really well."

Nadal started slowly and trailed 5-2 before losing the first set when he sent a forehand into the net. He then lost his serve twice in the second set but still managed to force a tiebreaker.

Nadal called for a physio during a changeover and was treated for a blister on his right foot. Almagro then looked set for his first victory in five matches against Nadal after leading 3-1 and then 5-3, but he injured his left thigh and barely was able to finish out the match.

Nadal will next face 14th-seeded countryman Tommy Robredo, who defeated Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-4.

"I have another chance to improve tomorrow," Nadal said. "I hope I don't play worse."

Also, Novak Djokovic beat Juan Monaco of Argentina 6-3, 7-5, and ninth-seeded Robin Soderling of Sweden kept alive his slim hopes of qualifying for the eight-man ATP World Tour Finals by defeating big-serving Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-4, 7-6 (6).

Djokovic, coming off a win against Federer in the Swiss Indoors final last week, will play Arnaud Clement of France in the next round.

Soderling, who will take on former champion Nikolay Davydenko in the third round, needs to at least reach the final to have a chance of qualifying for the season-ending event in London this month.

Davydenko and Soderling are among five players still in the running to secure the two remaining spots. The others are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Fernando Verdasco and Gonzalez.

There were also wins for No. 12 Marin Cilic of Croatia, No. 13 Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic and No. 15 Gael Monfils of France.

Monfils beat David Guez 6-4, 7-5 in an all-French match, Stepanek thrashed Viktor Troicki of Serbia 6-4, 6-0, and Cilic rallied to beat Lukasz Kubot of Poland 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2.

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