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Top seeds scattered to the wind as Aussie Open shocks keep coming

Maria Sharapova followed Serena Williams out of the Grand Slam tournament today.

Maraia Sharapova followed Serena Williams out the Australian Open exit door.
Maraia Sharapova followed Serena Williams out the Australian Open exit door.
Image: AP Photo/Aaron Favila

DOMINIKA CIBULKOVA PROVIDED Dominika Cibulkova provided another seismic shock at the Australian Open as she sent injury-hobbled Maria Sharapova crashing out, just a day after Serena Williams went the same way.

The diminutive Slovakian enjoyed one of the biggest wins of her career, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, a result which also did a big favour for defending champion Victoria Azarenka.

Azarenka, now the hot favourite as she guns for a rare hat-trick of Australian Open wins, stepped up her bid when she flattened old foe Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-2. “I’m glad I could find my rhythm and go for my shots. I just love playing here. It feels so cosy, it feels like home,” she said.

The Belarusian world number two will face either Agnieszka Radwanska or Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals, with Cibulkova heading into a clash with Romania’s Simona Halep.

With Sharapova, the Russian world number two, and top seed Williams both out, the women’s last eight has an unfamiliar feel. Halep and Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard are both first-time Slam quarter-finalists, while neither Williams’ conquerer Ana Ivanovic nor Flavia Pennetta are regulars at the business end.

There was some consolation for Sharapova when her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final 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 from months out with her troublesome right shoulder injury.

“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. “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.”

Cibulkova had never been beyond the fourth round in six previous attempts in Melbourne, although she has made the last eight at all the other three Grand Slams. “I was 100% sure I could win. I never doubted myself even when I lost the first set,” said the 20th seed. “I knew what I needed to do. The most important thing is to believe in yourself.”

Azarenka later coasted past Stephens, erasing memories of last year’s semi-final when she was accused of gamesmanship and slow-handclapped by the crowd after taking a medical timeout at a crucial moment.

Life moves on serenely in the men’s draw as Rafael Nadal downed Kei Nishikori while Andy Murray, who dropped his first set of the tournament, eventually beat ‘lucky loser’ Stephane Robert in four sets to advance to the quarter finals.

The men’s doubles, however, rocked by an upset on Monday when top-seeded American twins Bob and Mike Bryan, with a record 15 Grand Slam titles, went out in the third round.

- © AFP, 2014

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