The number of former Australian Open women’s champions still in AO2014 is now down to one.
In one of the most impressive Grand Slam tournament victories of her career, tiny Dominika Cibulkova stood tall and upset 2008 Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova 3-6 6-4 6-1 in the fourth round.
Sharapova joined five-time champion Serena Williams on the sidelines, and left two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka as the only former title winner left in the draw.
The third-seeded Sharapova took medical timeout in between the second and third sets for treatment on what was said to be an injury to her left hip, and while her movement was somewhat affected, that was not the reason why the Slovakian won the match.
After contesting a very up and down first set, Cibulkova played very consistently in the last two sets, controlling the court with her huge forehand, moving very quickly, attacking Sharapova’s second serves and serving well enough herself to keep the tall Russian off her back.
Cibulkova stated at the start of the summer that her goal was to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals for the first time, as she has managed to reach the final eight at the other Grand Slams.
But in order to do so, she had to figure how to appropriately blend her high-powered offense with a sturdy defense, a combination she had been unable to consistently employ during her now eight year career.
“That’s what my coach is trying to work on,” she recently said of Slovakian Fed Cup Matej Liptak, who is also her private coach.
“Last year I thought he was trying to change my game too much and wanted me to be less aggressive, but that's not what he really wants he just wants to work on my defense. So I can run a lot and go from defense to offense. Before I wanted to go for it too much.”
That's exactly what the 24-year-old did in the last two sets. After a patchy first set which saw her hit only three winners and commit 13 unforced errors, in the second set she nailed eight winners and forced the struggling Russian into seven errors. She also watched the out of sorts Sharapova commit 15 unforced errors as she lost control of her forehand.
Sharapova fell behind 5-0 in the second set, but rallied to come back to 5-4. However Cibulkova didn't lose faith and closed the set out with a vicious inside out forehand winner.
After she returned form her medical timeout, Sharapova fought as hard as she could, but Cibulkova decided that a suffocating defense was the way to victory and she was correct, not overplaying her hand during points and yanking her foe all over the court.
She finished the third set with four unforced errors to 19 from Sharapova, who committed three straight forehand errors to lose the match,
“It's tough,” said Sharapova who missed the last four months of the 2013 season with a shoulder injury.
“I will be genuine about it. It's never easy. We are very big competitors. I think that's why I have been so successful, is because my competitiveness in the past. It's moments like this that ultimately shape and you make you who you are, and that's how you bounce back.
“It's easy just to be successful, but it's how many times you're able to come back from the tough moments and losses and injuries that really define who you are as an athlete. And that's why I'm here, because I believe I still can be up there and certainly can play better, that's for sure,” she said.
Cibulkova has said that she has learned not to get so down on herself when she isn’t playing well, which aided her in the second and third sets against Sharapova
“If I think I have to win it's not fun anymore and then tennis doesn’t make me happy because I feel like I have to win,” she said. Now I am trying to be more relaxed and enjoy it.”
Cibulkova will play the winner of the match between former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic and 11th seed Simona Halep.