MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova followed Serena Williams out of the Australian Open after the second fourth-round upset in 24 hours.
Third-seeded Sharapova lost 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to Dominika Cibulkova today, struggling with her serve in the second and third sets and making 45 unforced errors as she tried to claw her way back.
Her serve started to backfire from the eighth game, when she was broken at love while trying to serve out the first set.
During a run of four breaks against her, Sharapova won only three points on her own serve and fell behind 5-0 in the second set.
The four-time major winner rallied to win four straight games before Cibulkova held to level the match. After taking an off-court medical timeout after the second set for a hip strain, she was broken immediately and had seven double faults in the third set.
Sharapova was two tournaments into a comeback from a prolonged layoff with a right shoulder injury. She said her run to the fourth round was a positive sign because she was healthy and back on tour.
"I have to look at the positives and see where I have come from in four or five months. I haven't played a lot of tennis in those six months," said Sharapova, who won the Australian title in 2008 and lost two other finals.
"So I certainly would have loved to play a little bit more before playing a Grand Slam, but this is the chance that I was given."
Top-ranked Williams, a five-time Australian Open champion, was knocked out in a three-set loss to 14th-seeded Ana Ivanovic on Sunday and later revealed she had a back problem that had her considering withdrawing from the tournament.
The absence of two of the biggest stars in women's tennis opens up the draw for two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who beat No. 13-seeded Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-2.
Azarenka broke Stephens' serve to open the second set then in the seventh to lead 5-2 before closing out the match.
The match was a replay of the pair's acrimonious semifinal last year when Azarenka took a medical timeout just when it appeared Stephens was getting momentum.
Stephens hit Azarenka in the hip area with a shot at the net in the first set today. Azarenka sent a forehand whizzing past Stephens a few games later.
BRYANS BOUNCED: Top-seeded Bob and Mike Bryan made their earliest exit from the Australian Open in 11 years, losing to American Eric Butorac and South African Raven Klaasen in the third round of men's doubles 7-6 (11-9), 6-4. The Bryans, the defending champions here, are the most successful doubles team in the Open era with 15 Grand Slam titles, including six at the Australian Open.