By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga started his quest for an ATP World Tour final spot with a 6-2 4-6 7-6 second-round victory over fellow Frenchman Julien Benneteau at the Paris Masters on Tuesday.
The sixth seeded Tsonga will claim one of the two remaining spots for next month's season-ending showdown at the O2 in London if he reaches the quarter-finals in Paris.
Six players have already qualified for the ATP World Tour finals, which will be contested between the top eight players of the 2012 race as of November 5.
Czech Tomas Berdych, the fifth seed who has already secured his London berth, started slowly against Andreas Seppi but eventually sealed a 7-6 6-2 win.
He will next face either France's Richard Gasquet, the 12th seed, or South African Kevin Anderson.
Tsonga, who will take on either Spain's Nicolas Almagro or Albert Ramos in the next round, looked set for a routine win when he breezed through the opening set but Benneteau proved to be a tough nut to crack.
Tsonga, however, never lost his concentration.
"In the third set I believe I was in a different state of mind. I had other intentions and it worked out for me," he told a news conference.
"Maybe things went my way. Sometimes against Julien I serve very hard and the ball comes back to me even faster. It was just a first (second) round and it was against Julien. He had nothing to lose. He was hitting hard."
The most important thing for Tsonga was to get this first match out of the way.
"In the end I won, and this is what I will remember."
Tsonga, the 2008 champion, played better on the key points, converting two of his three break chances while saving five break points to bag the first set.
Benneteau, however, was much more consistent in the second set, breaking decisively in the fifth game to level the contest.
Tsonga served for the match after breaking in the eighth game of the decider, only for Benneteau to break back and force a tiebreak, though he promptly lost five points in a row as Tsonga claimed it 7-2.
Earlier on Tuesday Japan's Kei Nishikori, the 15th seed, qualified for the third round by beating France's Benoit Paire in straight sets.
The Croatian 13th-seed Marin Cilic was the first seeded player to be knocked out when he lost in the second round against Poland's Jerzy Janowicz 7-6 6-2.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Tom Pilcher)