In the world of tennis, chances can be fleeting and few.
Of the 128 players who begin a Grand Slam tournament, just two will really have a chance to win it. To get there you need to win six matches in a row, seven for the title – it's tennis's version of the marathon.
History, the players who win them and, perhaps most poignantly, the players who don't, will tell you that winning a major is not easy. It's a life's work funneled into seven pressure-packed contests.
So you'd think the best man and woman would always win. They don't.
Anything can happen on any given day – inspiration can take hold on one side of the net, while emotions can overcome on the other, or injury can rob you of the chance to compete at your highest level.
And so we find ourselves with a women's draw that has been ransacked of some of its best and brightest stars. On Sunday it was top seed Serena Williams whose chance of winning her sixth title in Melbourne was snuffed out; a day later, it was Maria Sharapova’s turn.
The third seed here, Sharapova was ousted by 20th seed Dominika Cibulkova, who is through to her first Australian Open quarterfinal.
Cibulkova will play 11th seed and fellow first-time Australian Open quarterfinalist Simona Halep. In fact, this is Halep's first Grand Slam quarterfinal anywhere.
The young Romanian, who impressed in the back end of 2013 by winning six titles, came back from a set down to oust former No.1 Jelena Jankovic 6-4 2-6 6-0. But despite all she’s achieved this week, she’s not sure she’s ready to win her maiden major.
“In my mind I can say that I'm not prepared now [to win this tournament],” she said.
“But I just want to think that I have to take my chances to play every match and to see how far I can go.”
For Sloane Stephens, there would be no revenge over dual champion Victoria Azarenka who defeated her in the semifinals here last year. Azarenka was too strong for Stephens, knocking her out in straight sets 6-3 6-2.
While Azarenka is the highest-ranked player at No.2 left in the women’s draw, she’s not prepared to fall into the trap of thinking she is a shoe-in for the title.
“I don't consider [my]self just a favorite because I don't consider anybody as the favorite. I just go out there and play my best, because anybody on any given day – we've seen that happen last couple days – can bring their best game.
“You have to stay alert. It doesn't matter the level that you're No. 2 or whatever. Everybody has proven that anybody can beat anybody.”
In men’s action, Roger Federer put on an exhibition as he defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in straight sets to move through to his 11th-straight Australian Open quarterfinal.
Next up for Federer is fourth seed Andy Murray, his conqueror in the Australian Open 2013 semifinals. Murray ended the enchanted run of lucky loser Stephane Robert, a player who certainly cannot be accused of not taking his chances over the past week.
In other men’s action, Rafael Nadal overcame an inspired Kei Nishikori, who despite playing one of the matches of his life, was still unable to take a set off the top seed.
Watching this match though, you get the feeling that Nishikori will be back and he’ll go further next time. He pushed Rafa all the way, and had he been able to capitalise on a few chances he had at crucial moments he may not have fallen 7-6(3) 7-5 7-6(3).
Nadal’s next opponent is 22nd seed Grigor Dimitrov who, like Halep, is also playing in his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Before this week, Dimitrov had never made it past the third round of a major.
For the next wave of rising stars seeking their first Grand Slam title – Sloane, Simona, Grigor, Eugenie – this week could be the beginning of something special. And for the more established players, it could be another chapter added to already storied careers.
After all, you won’t know until your career is over whether or not this was your last or only chance to go the distance and win seven.