'Big Four' through as Sharapova sinks in Melbourne
By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal came through his first proper test to storm into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open on Monday but Maria Sharapova was ushered to the exit after a second big shock in as many days in the women's draw.
Victoria Azarenka was left as the only top-three seed still standing in the last eight when Sharapova was scratched from the title race by Dominika Cibulkova, a day after Serena Williams had also tumbled out in the fourth round.
In the men's draw, the "Big Four" look poised to scrap it out for yet another grand slam crown over the next week after Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray all won on Monday to join Novak Djokovic in the last eight.
Spaniard Nadal led the way with a 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 7-6 (7-3) victory over Japan's Kei Nishikori on Rod Laver Arena that was by no means as easy as the phrase "straight sets" would suggest.
The world number one had to contend with a blister on his hand, a tumble, a time violation at a crucial moment and his first losses of his serve in the tournament but most of all with some inspired shot-making from the Asian number one.
"I didn't play bad today, but I didn't play as good as I did two days ago," Nadal said, reflecting on his brilliant performance in the third round against Gael Monfils.
"But today's victory has much more value than the victory of two days ago. Because when you are playing that good, the normal thing is to win.
"When you are playing normal and the opponent is a good one, and you are able to keep winning, that has much more value." Continued...