Maria Sharapova’s struggles caught up with her as she followed Serena Williams out of the Australian Open.
The third seed had spent two minutes short of seven hours on court in her first three matches, half of it in extreme heat in the second round against Karin Knapp. All appeared well when she won the first set of her fourth-round match against Dominika Cibulkova but Sharapova needed treatment for a hip problem and faded to a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 defeat.
Cibulkova, who at 5ft 3in was giving away almost a foot in height, completed her set of grand slam quarter-finals.
The Slovakian, who hammered Sharapova at the French Open in 2009, said: “I went on the court and I was more than 100 per cent sure that I really could beat her. I could beat her on the big court, in an important match, at a grand slam.”
Cibulkova next meets Romania’s Simona Halep, who reached her first grand slam quarter-final with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-0 win over eighth seed Jelena Jankovic.
The exits of Sharapova and Williams – beaten by Ana Ivanovic on Sunday – left second seed Victoria Azarenka as the clear favourite to win her third straight Australian Open title. Azarenka was taking on Sloane Stephens in a rematch of last year’s controversial semi-final, when the Belarusian indicated she had taken a medical time-out late in the match for tactical reasons. She later insisted there had been a misunderstanding but the damage was done and, asked about their off-court relationship prior to the match, Stephens simply replied: “Non-existent.”
There was nothing too controversial this time, although Stephens did hit Azarenka with a shot – the champion responding by appearing to aim a volley at her opponent’s head. The main talking point, though, was how well Azarenka played in a clinical 6-3, 6-2 victory.