A spitting shower had subsided, but Roger Federer was confronting unruly elements while deadlocked with Denis Istomin at 5-5 in the first set. Shanking a forehand, Federer found himself staring into the murkiness of break-point pressure, as the free-swinging Uzbek was within one point of serving for a surprising lead.
Federer charged right into the tempest to turn the match around. The world No. 1 denied three break points in that crucial 11th game, igniting a five-game streak to spark a 7-5, 6-3 sweep that was a bit more complicated than the score suggests. It was the 10th consecutive win for Federer, who advanced to his third career Olympic singles quarterfinal.
It wasn't exactly a vintage Federer performance in the opening set—he mishit a few balls, squandered a 3-0 lead, and saw an increasingly-confident Istomin crack flat drives into the corners. Grass-court tennis can often come down to managing essential moments, and to his credit, Federer played with clarity and conviction at crunch time, then cleaned up his game considerably in the second set.
Despite the 1-12 career record against Top 10 opponents he carried onto court, the 35th-ranked Istomin can be a tricky customer when he can open the court to set up his low blasts down the line. Well aware that his opponent craves pace, Federer amped up his aggression to quell the threat. Two biting first serves erased the first two break points before Federer erupted with the shot sequence of the match—a slice serve down the middle that set up a swooping forehand swing volley winner to deny the third. Federer celebrated the shot with a declarative "Come on!", then attacked the net on successive points to coax errors and hold for 6-5.
Perhaps still ruing opportunity lost, Istomin faltered, dumping a double fault and a backhand error to face set point. He saved it, but a Federer forehand volley winner created a second set point. This time the Swiss converted, dancing around a backhand to drill a diagonal forehand too hot for Istomin to handle, finishing the first set in 49 minutes.
Coming off a career-best fourth-round result at Wimbledon, where he lost to Mikhail Youzhny in five sets, Istomin can be a threatening, albeit largely one-dimensional, power player. He plays with less spin on his shots, so if he's striking the ball cleanly, he can force even elite players to defend, however he lacks margin on his shots, which proved to be problematic at times. He tried changing direction over the higher part of the net, but his lack of spin limits his access to sharp angles.
Turning up the variety in the second set, Federer used his net skills and drop shot to befuddle the big hitter. A forehand drop shot gave Federer a 4-1 second-set lead, and he cruised to closure in winning 12 consecutive points on serve to wrap up a one-hour and 21-minute win, giving his fans further cause for celebration on Swiss National Day.
Continuing his quest for his first Olympic singles medal, Federer will face either John Isner, who recently defeated beat him in Davis Cup, or seventh-seeded Janko Tipsarevic for a semifinal spot.