Commentary

Maria Sharapova survives scare

Updated: January 23, 2012, 7:34 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- No one predicted Serena Williams would lose to Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Monday. It happened.

Another big name, Maria Sharapova, had to rally to land in the quarterfinals.

Petra Kvitova, who could play Sharapova in the semis, suffered a lapse before advancing. Kei Nishikori continues to impress, the French men have disappeared all of a sudden and Martina Navratilova offered up some interesting words.

Here are our five takeaways from Day 8.

1. Maria's still got heart

Sharapova wasn't a serious contender prior to the tournament because of the aftereffects of an ankle injury, and with Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters remaining in the draw, it'll be tough for the Russian to end her four-year Grand Slam drought.

But Sharapova's 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win against German Sabine Lisicki in the night session proves she's lost none of her hunger and grit.

How many players could rebound from losing six straight games, as Sharapova did, after taking a 3-0 lead?

The turning point of the match was a no-brainer: Lisicki was unable to capitalize on any of the five break points she held at 1-1 in the third. When Sharapova escaped, you knew there would be only one winner.

When the pressure rises, Sharapova can hit more than a few double faults. Yet in a good sign for the fourth seed, only two of her eight doubles came in the final set.

Sharapova will be fully expected to handle Makarova in the quarters, despite the latter's upset of Williams. Sharapova is 2-0 against Makarova, winning both their matches on clay last year.

2. Shooting from the hip

Navratilova hold back? Never.

The 18-time Grand Slam singles champion touched on a number of subjects in a news conference Monday.

When asked if women's tennis needed a "standout" star, she replied, "Well, we do."

And she thinks Kvitova could be that player.

[+] EnlargePetra Kvitova
Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesPetra Kvitova played less-than-convincing tennis, but she finds herself in the Aussie quarters.

"I think Petra has that possibility," Navratilova said. "If we still had the same ranking system we were using six years ago when they were giving bonus points for beating top players, Kvitova would have ended up No. 1 because she had beaten more players than [current No. 1 Caroline] Wozniacki. Wozniacki doesn't even have that great of a record in her career or the last four years over the top 10 or top five."

Navratilova later weighed in on the issue of revenue distribution at the majors. The men aren't happy with the cut they get.

Q: "Do you think the players are underpaid?"

A: "Underpaid at the Slams? Well, compared to what the Slams are making, yes. Compared to what a teacher is making, we are grossly overpaid."

Navratilova suspected she received $6,000 when she reached the Australian Open final in 1975. This year's women's runner-up receives $1.2 million.

3. Petra's progress

Will Kvitova's swoons in matches cost her as the tournament hits the business end?

It didn't against Ana Ivanovic in a 6-2, 7-6 (2) victory. Leading by a set and cruising at 5-3, Kvitova missed a routine overhead -- and badly. She lost 10 consecutive points to hand Ivanovic a 6-5 advantage.

The Czech benefited from two double faults to ease past Ivanovic 7-2 in the tiebreaker. Although Kvitova is getting closer to replacing Wozniacki as the world No. 1, Ivanovic is still waiting to reach another Grand Slam quarterfinal. Her last one came at the 2008 French Open, when she won it all.

"It's been a nice, nice tournament for me," Ivanovic said. "I played some really good tennis and proved to myself that I can play that level and compete against the best. That's definitely something that motivates me to now work harder."

Kvitova faces diminutive Italian Sara Errani in the quarterfinals.

Who'd have thought Errani's first appearance in the last eight of a major would come outside the French Open?

4. Air Kei flies high

Finally free of injuries, Nishikori excelled in the second half of 2011. He became the highest-ranked Japanese men's player when he surpassed Shuzo Matsuoka's No. 46.

Nishikori hasn't stopped there, entering this year's Australian Open as the 24th seed.

And in a sign of his progress, Nishikori toppled sixth-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 in steamy conditions to also reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Up next for Nishikori, who has played two five-set matches and a long four-setter in his past three, is Andy Murray.

Murray crushed Nishikori 6-3, 6-0 in Shanghai in October.

"He kind of destroyed me," Nishikori said. "But, you know, I have no pressure now."

Murray played under 50 minutes, as Kazakhstani opponent Mikhail Kukushkin retired with a hip injury in the third set.

5. Au revoir, Les Bleus

Now that ended well, didn't it?

Of the six Frenchmen who featured in the third round, only two reached the fourth round and none went any further.

After Tsonga's unexpected defeat, Richard Gasquet departed in straight sets to the ever-resilient David Ferrer.

Gasquet, though, said he was happy with his performance here since he only recently returned to full fitness after an elbow injury.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.