Australian Open: Oh, How the Mighty Are Falling
Another towering threat in the Australian Open has been felled. Number 3 seed and four-time Grand Slam champ Maria Sharapova, all 6'2 inches of her, came crashing down in the Round of 16 at the hands of 5'3 Dominika "Diminuka" Cibulkova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Some light is now filtering down to the forest floor. Seedlings like 30th-seed Eugenie Bouchard, Simona Halep and Garbine Mugaruza -- Garbine Mugaruza! -- are now getting Miracle Gro pep talks from their coaches.
Cibulkova was thisclose to letting Sharapova slip through to the quarters in straight sets. Cib was up 5-0 in the second, but got tight, letting Maria reel off four straight games. To her credit, she knuckled down and closed out the set, holding up a clenched fist in triumph. She learned her lesson in the third set and never let her foot off the gas.
"I came into this match believing 100 percent that I could win it," she said in her on-court interview. Cib credited her victory to confidence. But, as with Ana Ivanovic's upset of world number one Serena Williams Saturday, journos will likely give more of a nod toward Sharapova's injury.
After losing the second set, Sharapova called for the trainer and received a ten-minute medical time out for what what Maria said later was a hip strain.
It was just maybe few seconds I let my thinking go away." -Dominika Cibulkova
As I watched on TV, I thought, gamesmanship. Maria's going to use the bum butt to regroup and come out firing, and Dominika is going to let the long wait rattle her. But it didn't. "I wasn't thinking about it," she said in her post-match interview. She WAS thinking about Maria's service toss, which she caught a couple of times near the end of the match.
But that long break didn't phase Cibulkova. What was getting to her was Maria's ball toss.
"I was getting like a little bit angry about that, you know. I was keep talking myself, like, Why she doing that? I thought it was on the purpose."
I know the feeling, DC. I burn with fury whenever Mark starts chatting during a changeover about the little adjustment he's made that has him cracking forehand winners down the line against me and my Worthy Comrade. He's doing this on purpose. He's rubbing it in. He hates me. I hate him more. I'm calling an attorney after this match.
I haven't called an attorney. Yet. And Cibulkova stopped the mental bleeding.
"It was just maybe few seconds I let my thinking go away," she said. "That what I was also working on during my preseason, you know, to let me stay focused and not to let my thoughts go away."
Cibulkova has beaten Maria on a big stage like this before. She dominikanated Sharapova in the quarters of the French Open, 6-0, 61. But that was five years ago, in 2009. She must have a scrap book of that match, a little memory shrine in her head that she visits to remember what that felt like, because she rode that feeling all the way into her first quarterfinals Down Under.
When Ivanovic stepped inside the service box for Serena's second serve, it was like watching a New Yorker cross Eighth Avenue
Ivanovic's victory was more unexpected. The 14th-seed had never won a match against Serena in their four previous meetings, never even took a set from Williams. She's been in one quarterfinal since her French Open victory in 2008. You've got to get into the Way Back Machine to remember that victory, before her toss went awry and her confidence crumbled.
But here she was, doing what no one on the women's tour does: cracking winners off of Serena's vaunted serve. Ana had 33 winners to Serena's 22. She won 60 percent of second serve points, compared to a paltry 41 percent for Serena. When Ivanovic stepped inside the service box for Serena's second serve, it was like watching a New Yorker cross Eighth Avenue in front of a line of cabs at rush hour: Bold.
On center court, in Rod Laver Arena, defending men's doubles champs Bob and Mike Bryan were shown the exit by Minnesota native Eric Butorac and his doubles partner, Raven Klaasen of South Africa, 7-6 (9), 6-4. It's the first time in 10 years that the twins haven't made the finals.
Even more stunning is that they were beaten by two guys who've only been playing doubles together for four months.