Maria Sharapova crashed out of the Australian Open in another seismic upset yesterday as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Victoria Azarenka saw off challenges to keep their title bids intact.
A day after Serena Williams’ shock exit, Dominika Cibulkova kept the upsets rolling as she ousted injury-compromised Sharapova 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to blow the women’s draw even further open.
The main expected beneficiary, two-time defending champion Azarenka, is in position to take full advantage after she flattened old foe Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals.
The Belarussian world No. 2 will face Polish fifth seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarters, with Cibulkova heading into a clash with Romania’s Simona Halep.
Men’s top seed Nadal weathered an assault from Japan’s Kei Nishikori 7-6 (7/3), 7-5, 7-6 (7/3) to face Grigor Dimitrov in the Bulgarian’s first Grand Slam quarter-final.
The 13-time Grand Slam-winner chided the umpire after he was called for a time violation for taking longer than the 20 seconds allowed between points at a critical moment in the third set.
“The negative thing in my opinion is not the warning, but the timing of it. You can choose another moment to do it, not that one,” Nadal said.
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray needed five match points and four sets to beat “lucky loser” Stephane Robert, angrily demolishing a racquet along the way.
Murray cruised through the first two sets, but missed match points and dropped his first set of the tournament before finishing it off 6-1, 6-2, 6-7 (6/8), 6-2.
Federer was a convincing winner against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, racing through 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 to set up a quarter-final against Murray.
There was some consolation for Sharapova when boyfriend Dimitrov, 22, won 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain, but overall it was a dismal day for the statuesque Russian, cutting short what has been a difficult return to Grand Slam tennis after months out with a right shoulder injury.
Sharapova blamed her tough workouts against Karin Knapp and Alize Cornet after a left hip injury flared up against Cibulkova, who took full advantage.
Sharapova was too strong for Cibulkova in the first set, but errors crept in in the second and after the Slovak leveled at a set each, the Russian took a medical timeout.
Sharapova, rated the world’s highest-paid female athlete, succumbed tamely in the third set, conceding three breaks to keep her search for a fifth major title on hold.
“I think it’s a success [the tournament] in terms of that I’m back and that I’m healthy. That’s quite important. Otherwise, I wouldn’t give myself a chance to play,” she said.
Cibulkova had never been beyond the fourth round in six previous attempts in Melbourne, although she has made the last eight at the other three Grand Slams.
“I was 100 percent sure I could win. I never doubted myself, even when I lost the first set,” she said.
Azarenka later coasted past Stephens, erasing memories of last year’s semi-final when she was accused of gamesmanship after taking a medical timeout at a key moment.
Romania’s Halep beat former women’s No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 6-4, 2-6, 6-0 to add to the unfamiliar look of the women’s quarter-finals.
Halep and Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard are in the last eight of a Slam for the first time, while neither Williams’ conquerer Ana Ivanovic nor Flavia Pennetta are regulars.