MELBOURNE: A bitterly disappointed Dominika Cibulkova became the latest top seed to crash out of the Australian Open Saturday when she was upset by Russian dark horse Ekaterina Makarova.
The Slovak sixth seed and WTA Finals champion joins third seed Agnieszka Radwanska and fourth-seeded Simona Halep as first-week casualties, blowing the draw wide open.
Makarova, 28, was never going to be a pushover.
Melbourne Park has been her most successful Grand Slam and her marathon 6-2, 6-7 (3/7), 6-3 win in nearly three hours put her in the fourth round for a seventh consecutive time.
In 2015 she made a memorable run to the semi-finals, losing to Maria Sharapova, who is serving a drugs ban.
“It was an amazing match, an amazing fight,” Makarova said. “This is my favourite Grand Slam and I really want to stay here.
“I want to enjoy this win today because it is my first against Dominika and she is a great player.”
Seeded 30, her reward is a last-16 showdown with either British ninth seed Johanna Konta or Danish former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, who are both in good form.
It was an agonising end for Cibulkova, who fell last year in the first round.
“This loss is just one that I will think about for a few days, I will have in my head, because I really felt that I had the match,” she said.
“Sometimes you lose a match like this, and you just really want to go back 45 minutes, and do things maybe differently. I would really want to change it, but you cannot do it anymore.”
The Slovak, runner-up to China’s Li Na in the 2014 final, looked out of sorts and was broken in her second service game after some probing baseline rallies.
She struggled to contain the left-hander’s booming forehand and another sizzler down the line gave Makarova a second break to take control of the first set 4-1.
A frustrated Cibulkova began talking to herself between points and she pulled back a break when Makarova sprayed a forehand long and wide.
Makarova raced to a 4-0 second-set lead but Cibulkova then staged a stunning fightback, winning five games in a row as Makarova tired.
The Russian saved three set points in a 10th game that went for nine minutes before the set headed to a tiebreak, where Cibulkova prevailed.
After time off court during the changeover, Makarova returned and they traded breaks in an intense third set before Cibulkova sent a forehand wide to hand over the advantage.
It was all Makarova needed as she clung on for a famous victory.