• Australian Open

Sharapova dumped out, Azarenka cruises through

ESPN staff
January 20, 2014
Sharapova was stunned by Cibulkova in the fourth round © Getty Images

With Maria Sharapova following Serena Williams out of the Australian Open in the second upset in 24 hours, attention turned quickly to defending champion Victoria Azarenka's bid for a third consecutive title.

Third-seeded Sharapova lost 3-6 6-4 6-1 to Dominika Cibulkova in a fourth round in the Rod Laver Arena, struggling with her serve in the second and third sets and making 45 unforced errors as she tried to claw her way back.

Top-ranked Williams lost to Ana Ivanovic on Sunday afternoon, ending her 25-match winning streak and taking the hottest of title contenders out of the draw.

Losing the rivals ranked Nos. 1 and 3 in quick succession did not distract No. 2 Azarenka, who had a 6-3 6-2 win over 13th seed Sloane Stephens in a match that lacked the drama of their contentious semi-final here last year.

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"The players who beat those players deserve all the credit because they've been better, so they are dangerous and they are competitive," Azarenka said. "For me it's important to just keep focusing on my game. Quarter-finals of a Grand Slam are never easy, no matter who you play."

Sharapova's serve started to backfire from the eighth game, when she was broken at love while serving for the set.

During a run of four breaks against her, Sharapova won only three points on her own serve and fell 5-0 behind in the second set.

The four-time major winner rallied to win four straight games before No. 20-seeded Cibulkova held to level the match. After taking an off-court medical time out after the second set for a hip strain, she was broken immediately and had seven double-faults in the third set.

Sharapova was two tournaments into a comeback from a prolonged layoff with a right shoulder injury, and said her run to the fourth round was a positive sign because she was healthy and back on tour.

"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," said Sharapova, who won the Australian title in 2008 and lost two other finals. "So I certainly would have loved to play a little bit more before playing a Grand Slam, but this is the chance that I was given."

Cibulkova had spent just over 3½ hours on court in her first three wins, and went in confidently knowing she had beaten Sharapova in a Grand Slam quarterfinal before.

"I was never doubting myself," Cibulkova said, who completed a full set of grand slam quarter-final appearances with her best run yet in Melbourne. She will next play first-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist Simona Halep, who beat former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic 6-4 2-6 6-0.

Azarenka, meanwhile, was making herself comfortable at Melbourne Park, where she's on an 18-match winning streak. She had her singer boyfriend Red Foo in the stands, and could joke about engagement rings - which she hasn't got - in her on-court post-match interview.

"I just love playing here, the surroundings, it feels so cosy, like home," she said after her win over Stephens. It was a rematch of their semifinal last year when Azarenka took a medical timeout just when it appeared Stephens was getting momentum, then came back and won the match.

In the first set, Stephens accidently hit Azarenka in the hip area with a shot at the net, and Azarenka sent a forehand whizzing past Stephens a few games later.

There was very little tension, though, after Azarenka broke Stephens' serve to open the second set and then again to take a 5-2. The second-seeded Azarenka didn't' have any trouble closing out this time, saving one set point before setting up match point with an ace.

Azarenka's next opponent will be Aggy Radwanska, who saw off Garbine Muguruza 6-1 6-3 in an hour and 17 minutes in the Rod Laver Arena to move into her fifth Australian Open quarter-final - and her fourth in a row.

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