Monday January 23rd, 2012

Serena Williams was unable to rally against unseeded Ekaterina Makarova. (Andrew Brownbill/AP)

MELBOURNE, Australia -- On Day 8 at the Australian Open, Serena Williams was upset, Maria Sharapova rallied to win and Lleyton Hewitt made Novak Djokovic work. Here's a rundown of Monday's action.

What happened

Serena bows out: Facing her first real test of the tournament, Serena Williams simply couldn't summon her game when she needed it in a stunning 6-2, 6-3 loss to Ekaterina Makarova in the fourth round. Williams served at only 52 percent with seven double faults, committed 37 unforced errors and yielded 15 break points to the 56nd-ranked Makarova, who converted five.

Williams admitted that she wouldn't have played here if this were not a Grand Slam tournament. After tearing ligaments in her ankle in Brisbane two weeks ago, the 30-year-old Williams has been on pain killers and receiving constant treatment to get her body into playing shape.

Serena also credited Makarova for her performance -- and with good reason. The 23-year-old Russian lefty played fearless tennis and -- much like Samantha Stosur did against the 13-time Grand Slam champion in last year's U.S. Open final -- withstood a surge from Williams.

Serena won the first eight points of the second set. Serving to consolidate her 2-0 lead, she hit a forehand error and double-faulted twice, and next thing you knew her momentum was gone and Williams was crying out to the heavens for help. It wouldn't come. Unable to regain control of the set, Williams faded. She double-faulted to give Makarova the go-ahead break, and Makarova held her nerve to advance to the quarterfinals at a major for the first time.

"I won against Serena.  That's amazing," she said.

This marked only the second time since 2000 that Williams failed to reach the last eight at the Australian Open.

"I didn't play well," Williams said.  "I'm not physically 100 percent, so I can't be so angry at myself, even though I'm very unhappy.  I know that I can play a hundred times better than I did this whole tournament."

That's been the issue the last few years for Williams. Age, injury and motivation have all been factors, but she hasn't been able to play her best consistently on the big stages. Is it time to completely re-evaluate the default confidence we have in Serena to be able to win seven matches at a Slam? On one hand, she's earned that level of respect because of her success. On the other hand, it seems unfair to her and the other players that we expect her to win every time she steps on the court simply because we know she can.

Sharapova fights on: The fourth-seeded Sharapova also confronted her first challenge of the tournament after losing only five games in her first three matches. She dropped six consecutive games to Sabine Lisicki to lose the first set 6-3. But, unlike Williams, Sharapova found a way to fight back and overcome her unforced errors (47) and double faults (eight).

Sharapova moved as well as she has in a while in her 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 win, often forcing Lisicki to hit an extra shot in a rally, and played the big points better than her 14th-seeded opponent.

"It's a part of my game that I constantly work on, being quick, working on the physical part," Sharapova said.  "It's one of the most important things in the game because it has become a lot more physical and much more demanding on the body.  Also in the last few years, I'm stronger. I'm able to withstand much longer matches, which helps me."

With Williams out, Sharapova will meet Makarova in the quarterfinals.

Hewitt doesn't go quietly: Hewitt's surprising run ended Monday, but not without some drama. The 30-year-old Aussie played just as well against Djokovic as he did against Milos Raonic on Saturday, but for two and a half sets Djokovic was basically showing Hewitt that the game had left him behind.

But then, at 6-1, 6-3, 3-0, Djokovic lost his focus. With just that little dip in form from the world No. 1, Hewitt came all the way back to win the third set and jolt the crowd in possibly his final match at Rod Laver Arena.

Djokovic eventually settled everything down in the fourth set to close out a 6-1, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory, setting up a quarterfinal match against David Ferrer. But you couldn't help but smile and shake your head in disbelief watching yet another gritty performance from the Aussie.

"It was a great atmosphere," Hewitt said. "Toward the end of the third set and the whole fourth set, the crowd got involved in it.  It's great.  They're the moments you play tennis for, to be out there in those situations."

Special Kei: If not for Makarova's upset of Williams, the story of the day would have been Kei Nishikori. With a  2-6, 6-2, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 victory over No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the 24th-seeded Nishikori became the first Japanese man to make the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in the Open era.

Nishikori started slowly and looked overmatched against Tsonga, whose forehand kept the 22-year-old at bay in the first set. But a stoppage in play because of a dead spot on Hisense Arena seemed to give him the time he needed to compose himself. From there he was brilliant, dictating with his forehand and attacking Tsonga's backhand repeatedly to break it down.

Nishikori's ability to get through a second five-set match in this tournament is a credit to his improved fitness, something his next opponent, Andy Murray, noticed recently in Brisbane.

"I know Brad [Gilbert, who works with Nishikori], when I worked with him and spoke to him about Kei a little bit, he was saying he needs to learn to love the gym," Murray said. "To be fair, I've seen him in there a lot doing good work.  He's gotten in better shape. That can then help with your mentality on the court. Because he isn't as tall as some of the guys, getting stronger will have helped his game.  He's playing very well."

Photo of the day

Ekaterina Makarova celebrates after upsetting Serena Williams in the fourth round. (Zumapress)

Go figure

999 ... Career Tour-level matches for Roger Federer, who will play No. 1,000 on Tuesday when he meets Juan Martin del Potro in the quarterfinals.

813-186 ... Federer's career record.

19-24 ... Makarova's record last year.

2 ... Unseeded players in the women's quarterfinals: Makarova and 48th-ranked Sara Errani, who earned her spot with a 6-2, 6-1 victory against Zheng Jie.

Video of the day

Check out Petra Kvitova whiff on what should have been a routine smash just a few feet in front of the net during her 6-2, 7-6 (2) victory against Ana Ivanovic.  (Note: Skip ahead to the 0:41 mark for the start of the point.)

*****

Bits and bobbles

• Martina Navratilova discussed a variety of topics during a news conference with reporters. Here's how she responded when asked whether Kvitova is the next big thing and whether women's tennis needs a "standout star":

"Clearly nobody feels that [Caroline] Wozniacki is a true No. 1.  If we still had the same ranking system we were using six years ago when they were giving bonus points for beating players, Kvitova would have ended up No. 1 because she had beaten more top players than Wozniacki. Wozniacki doesn't even have that great of a record in her career or the last four years over the top 10 or against the top five, whereas Petra you feel really imposes herself on the match and any player.

"With the absence of Serena playing enough, we need some superstars that you really feel like they're holding their own.  I think Petra has that possibility.  [Victoria] Azarenka is coming up as well.  She's playing good ball, can't be overlooked.  Although she's never been to a Grand Slam final, she's looking the part more and more."

On Wozniacki, who is looking for her first major title, Navratilova said: "She's No. 1 because that's how they set up the computer ranking. It weighs too much on quantity and not enough on quality. Caroline doesn't need to explain why she was No. 1; it's the WTA that needs to explain that."

• Murray moved into the quarterfinals after Mikhail Kukushkin retired down  6-1, 6-1, 1-0 because of a leg injury. The Scot was happy to get off the court quickly, but he admitted it wasn't much fun. "I thought it was best he retired because it was pointless," Murray said. "He wasn't running. The people probably weren't enjoying the match that much. I certainly wasn't because nothing was happening. ... Sometimes it's best just to stop."

• Rafael Nadal was asked the following the other day: If he could play only one more match, who would he want to face and where? His answer: Roger Federer at Wimbledon.

They said it

"My approach hasn't changed toward the sport itself and toward my preparations for the big events like this one. I still am surrounded with the same team, same amount of people, and they're taking care of my on-court performance, activities, things like that.  I feel very comfortable right now working with them. I have to accept this life as simple as possible because you can easily get carried away. There is a lot of temptations, especially when you're at the top. Obviously, you get more attention and more temptations to do some things that can affect your performance in a negative way."

-- Novak Djokovic, on how comfortable he is at No. 1.

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