(Reuters) - Men's number two seed Novak Djokovic struggled into the Olympic quarter-finals on Wednesday with a hardfought 4-6 7-5 6-1 win over world number 158 Australia's Lleyton Hewitt.
World number one Roger Federer also faced a shaky moment against Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin, saving three break points at 5-5 in the first set before securing his spot in the final eight with a 7-5 6-3 win.
In the women's, Serena Williams ploughed to a 6-1 6-0 win over Russia's Vera Zvonareva, who left the court in tears after the 51 minute annihilation, soon to be joined by teammate Nadia Petrova after her 7-6 6-4 loss to Belarusian top seed Victoria Azarenka.
Returning to Centre Court after a half-hour rain delay, Beijing bronze medalist Djokovic gifted Hewitt a break at 4-4 in the first set after ploughing a backhand into the net at the end of a long baseline rally.
Hewitt, who won Wimbledon in 2002 but has since been plagued by injury, quickly wrapped up the set to take the lead against the Serbian five-times grand slam winner.
"Incredible match. He started off really well. I don't think I have done anything wrong in the first set ... It was very close and could have gone either way," Djokovic told reporters.
A rattled Djokovic went 5-3 ahead in the second but, serving for the set, he was outsmarted by the 31-year-old, who planted two consecutive backhands down the line to claw back a break as the crowd erupted with a roar.
As cries of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, oi oi oi" rang out, the valiant Australian leveled the set at 5-5 before he was broken again, forcing a decider.
Djokovic, who at one point entertained the lively crowd with a shot through the legs, found his stride in the third, breaking the 31-year-old twice to serve for the match at 5-1.
As Hewitt, who was handed his place at the games by the International Tennis Federation, hit a backhand into the net to hand Djokovic the victory, the 25-year-old pumped his fists in the air before letting out a very big sigh of relief.
"It's never that easy against Lleyton, he's one of the best returners ever to play the game. It was a great test, it's always a pleasure to play against him and I look forward to the next challenge," Djokovic said.
That challenge will be Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who he will play for a place in the semi-finals after the Frenchman mustered enough energy to beat Spain's Feliciano Lopez 7-6 6-4 less than 24 hours after his second round win over Milos Raonic set the record for longest three-set match in Olympic tennis history.
Venus Williams' hopes of becoming the first tennis player to win four Olympic gold medals will have to rest on the doubles after she was knocked out of the singles in a 7-6 7-6 third-round defeat to Germany's Angelique Kerber.
Beligum's Kim Clijsters, who plans to retire for the second time after the U.S. Open in September, moved one step closer to winning a medal at her first and last Olympics with a 6-3 6-4 win over 11th seeded Serbian Ana Ivanovic.
"I feel like I've been playing some really good tennis in the first three matches here, it's just a matter of trying to keep that up and before every match I need to refocus and stay on target," 29-year-old Clijsters told reporters.
"When things go tough, fight each shot and that's all you can do when things are tougher; keep fighting and give it your all."
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