Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova has claimed the huge scalp of Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open.
Feisty Dominika Cibulkova accused Maria Sharapova of deliberately wasting time with her errant ball toss after dumping the No.3 seed out of the Australian Open in the second huge upset in as many days at Melbourne Park.
After needing three attempts to serve out the second set, Cibulkova kept her focus while the Russian took a medical timeout for treatment on a hip strain and then powered through the deciding set to win 3-6 6-4 6-1.
The defeat of Sharapova came less than 24 hours after world No.1 Serena Williams was sensationally ousted by Ana Ivanovic.
It left two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka from Belarus as the only former Australian Open winner still in contention for the 2014 title.
Azarenka firmed as title favourite after downing American Sloane Stephens 6-3 6-2 in a repeat of last year’s controversial semi-final at Melbourne Park.
Cibulkova has now beaten Sharapova twice at a grand slam event.
The other occasion was an even bigger upset, when the Slovakian won 6-0 6-2 in the quarter-finals of the 2009 French Open when she was ranked a lowly No.102 in the world.
Cibulkova was proud to have kept her cool in the third set on Monday when Sharapova repeatedly struggled with her ball toss.
“When the match was coming to the end, I was getting a little bit angry about that,” she said.
“I kept talking to myself, saying `why is she doing that?’
“I thought she was doing it on purpose.”
Cibulkova admitted it was just the sort of situation that could have thrown her off course in previous years.
“There were many things that could distract me in the past,” she said.
“My mind could go away for maybe a game or two and then with these players, sometimes it’s enough to lose a set and the match.
” … there are many ways you can beat a player.
“She knew I was playing well.
“Maybe I’m wrong, maybe she was just feeling really nervous on the serve and not doing the toss thing on purpose.
“But I think it was something about tactics.”
Sharapova was also troubled by a hip injury last year at Wimbledon, with the Brisbane International earlier this month her first tournament since mid-August.
“I have to look at the positives and see where I have come from in the last four or five months,” she said.
“I would certainly have loved to play a little bit more before playing a grand slam, but this is the chance I was given.”
Sharapova had advanced to the final at Melbourne Park on three previous occasions, winning the title back in 2008.
Having now reached the last eight at all majors, Cibulkova’s reward was a quarter-final against No.11 seed Simona Halep.
The Romanian made it to the last eight at a grand slam tournament for the first time in 15 attempts with a 6-4 2-6 6-0 victory over former world No.1 Jelena Jankovic.
Azarenka admitted that, going off the world rankings, she and No.4 seed Li Na were now the hot favourites to advance to the final and reprise last year’s title match.
“But I don’t consider myself a favourite because I don’t consider anyone the favourite,” she said.
“I just go out there and play my best because anybody on any given day can bring their best game, as we’ve seen happen in the last couple of days.”
“You have to stay alert.”