(Writes through, adds quotes)
PARIS, June 2 (Reuters) - Once is commendable, twice is extraordinary but winning from a two set-deficit for the third round in succession at a grand slam tournament like claycourt warrior Tommy Robredo did at the French Open on Sunday stretches the boundaries of credibility.
Especially considering last year the Spaniard could hardly run, needed leg surgery and had fallen to 471 in the rankings.
The 31-year-old looked down and out when he trailed fellow Spaniard Nicolas Almagro by two sets and 4-1 in the third but produced another Houdini-esque escape and fought back to claim an emotional 6-7(5) 3-6 6-4 6-4 6-4 victory.
After a shattered Almagro dumped a backhand volley into the net, Robredo collapsed to the court and could not stop the tears flowing as the enormity of his feat sunk in.
In the second round Robredo gave Dutchman Igor Sijsling a two-set lead and he was at it again against Frenchman Gael Monfils in round three, storming back to win in five after saving four match points.
On Sunday it was 11th seed Almagro's turn to suffer at the hands of the comeback king as Robredo became the first player to overturn three successive two-set deficits since Frenchman Henri Cochet showed a fondness for lost causes at Wimbledon in 1927.
"It's funny, because the last three, four years I couldn't even run that much," Robredo, who needed surgery to repair his continually-tearing left hamstring last year, told reporters.
"And I love to run.
"Before the match I was tired, I was in pain everywhere and I was hoping to try and win the first set because if not I knew it was going to be tough for me," he added.
"But I lost the first, I lost the second, and I had pain in my arm and couldn't even hold the racket a couple of games.
"Then suddenly I recovered. He was 4-1-up (in the third). Maybe he had a little bit of doubt at that moment. Then I just pushed hard and I won the third. Then I was just dreaming and dreaming to try to do it again, and I did it."
Former world number five Robredo, who faces another formidable Spaniard next in the form of fourth seed David Ferrer, said he "couldn't care less" about emulating Cochet but was emotional because of his recent injury woes.
"I'm not thinking about history," he said.
"I have been crying a lot lately. Today my emotions were so strong they were overpowering.
"To come up against Nico and turn it around, that was incredible. I'm so happy."
Once Almagro edged the first set he looked like overpowering the rather old-fashioned-looking Robredo with his punishing groundstrokes. He had only dropped one set against Robredo in five meetings and he was in total control.
He was wrong. Robredo loves nothing more than digging a hole and then clambering out.
From 4-1 down in the third set Robredo's classical single-handed backhand began to click and he started taking risks, taking the fight to his opponent.
Suddenly it was Almagro who was being stretched in the baseline rallies and the momentum swung.
Having levelled the match at two sets all, Robredo fell a break behind in the decider but produced one final burst to seal another improbable victory.
"It's still difficult for me to come up with an explanation what happened," Almagro said. "I think Tommy produced a remarkable, admirable game."
Ferrer said he had no doubt he was in for a fight when the pair meet in the next round.
"Tommy is back," Ferrer, who has surpassed Robredo in Spain's claycourt pecking order, said. "He had a difficult year. It was difficult for him to gather his strengths together again but he's done that. And he's one of the best players on clay."
Robredo's comeback also caught the eye of Roger Federer.
"I know how it is to come back from two sets to love, and that is a big deal," the Swiss second seed said after his fourth-round victory over Gilles Simon.
"So the combo of him doing that three times consecutively at probably his most favourite tournament in the world, yeah it's an amazing achievement. I couldn't be happier for the guy." (Editing by Clare Fallon and Sonia Oxley)