Cibulkova takes down Sharapova
MELBOURNE, Australia -- A physical three-set match was the very last thing Maria Sharapova -- who said afterward she was dealing with a hip problem -- needed Monday.
And, as it turned out, it was the last thing the No. 3 seed would see of the Australian Open after dropping a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 fourth-round decision to No. 20 seed Dominika Cibulkova.
One day after top seed Serena Williams exited the tournament with a shocking loss to Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round, one of Williams' biggest rivals would follow. And after Williams admitted she was suffering with back discomfort, Sharapova said she had a hip strain that affected her during her loss.
"I mean, those aches and pains are expected when you spend a long time on the court," said Sharapova, who received a medical timeout after the second set. "[You] just have to play through it. ... I haven't been playing the best tennis of this tournament, but I found ways to get through to the last two matches. I tried to do that again today, but she played extremely well."
In Sharapova's second-round match, she defeated Karin Knapp 10-8 in the third set of a match played in 109-degree heat, then beat No. 25 Alize Cornet 7-6 (6) in the second. In 11 trips here, this was only her fourth loss before the quarterfinals.
"I watched the match and it was great," Cibulkova said, on the court after the match, of Ivanovic's loss, "but this was a little bit different. I already beat Maria before and in a Grand Slam at [a French Open quarterfinal in] Roland Garros. That's the most important thing, to believe in yourself."
Sharapova, the 2008 Australian Open champ playing in her first major after a shoulder injury kept her off the tour for the second half of 2013, had been resilient but shaky in her first three matches here. And those mistakes caught up to her against Cibulkova in the first hard-court match between the two in six matches.
Sharapova still termed her comeback "a success in terms of that I'm back and that I'm healthy."
"That's quite important," she said. "Otherwise I wouldn't give myself a chance to play. So on that note, yeah, I have to look at the positives and see where I have come from in four or five months. I haven't played a lot of tennis in those six months.
"I certainly would have loved to [have played] a little bit more before playing a Grand Slam, but this is the chance that I was given. I'm smart enough to be able to take it and acknowledge that I'm still pretty lucky to be in the draw and giving myself a chance to try to win it."
On a cool but windy day at Melbourne Park, Sharapova began strong but ended up committing an uncharacteristic 45 unforced errors and had eight double faults, seven in the third set alone.
Cibukova, who won just four Grand Slam matches in total in 2013 and has already won four this year, raced out to a 5-0 lead in the second set before Sharpova won four straight and Cibulkova served out the set. Cibulkova lost just five points on her serve in the third. She next meets No. 1 seed Simona Halep, 22, from Romania, who defeated No. 8 Jelena Jankovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal match.
"That was most the important thing," Cibulkova said, "that I went on court and was 100 percent sure I would win the match. I never doubted myself even after the first set."
"It's tough," Sharapova said. "I will be genuine about it. It's never easy. We are very big competitors. I think that's why I have been so successful, is because my competitiveness in the past.
"But it's moments like this that ultimately shape and make you who you are, and that's how you bounce back. It's easy just to be successful, but it's how many times you're able to come back from the tough moments and losses and injuries that really define who you are as an athlete. That's why I'm here, because I believe I still can be up there and certainly can play better, that's for sure."
The day began with another upset as six-time Australian Open champs Bob and Mike Bryan, the winningest doubles team in the world, lost a third-round match 7-6 (9), 6-4 to Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen, making it the Americans' second surprising Grand Slam tournament exit in a row after being eliminated in the semifinals of the US Open.