Despite the justifiable focus on the oppressive heat at the 2014 Australian Open, there has also been some excellent tennis played. The top of the women's bracket has seen a dramatic makeover, while two unlikely hitters have surprised on the men's side. Here are the most impressive singles performances so far Down Under.
On Day 7, Serena Williams lost to Ana Ivanovic as the Serbian gave the top-ranked woman a sour start to the year. Ivanovic prevailed 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 but recorded only one ace to 13 for Williams. Ivanovic also won 60 percent of her second-serve points to only 41 percent for Serena, who joined sister Venus as a spectator.
Then No. 3 Maria Sharapova succumbed to Dominika Cibulkova on Day 8, with the Slovak winning 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. Sharapova had been dealing with a right collarbone injury that kept her out of the Brisbane International, so this result was only slightly predictable. With No. 10 Caroline Wozniacki losing to Garbine Muguruza Blanco on Day 6, the women's side of the bracket looks wide open.
Victoria Azarenka took care of American darling Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-2 on Day 8 in a rematch of their semifinals clash last year. With Williams and Sharapova out, it appears that Azarenka has a clear path to a third consecutive title at the Australian Open as she enters the quarterfinals.
espnW -- Sloane Stephens falls flat in fourth-round Australian Open loss to Victoria Azarenka http://t.co/B5h3zcNirz— ESPNTennis (@ESPNTennis) January 20, 2014
The heat has also caused some players to look like a shell of themselves. One such example was Cibulkova's 6-1, 6-0 annihilation of No. 16 Carla Suarez-Navarro, which wrapped up in under an hour. The Spaniard wilted in the boiling temperatures and managed to hit just two lonely winners to 20 for her opponent.
On the men's side, all of the Big Four remain with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Roger Federer taking care of business. However, Murray and Federer collide in the quarterfinals.
Just behind them, No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro suffered heartbreak in losing a five-set slugfest to unranked Roberto Bautista Agut on Day 4.
Agut survived 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 despite having six double faults to 12 aces, while Del Potro had 28 aces. Agut also smacked 18 more unforced errors than his opponent but still hung on to win and produce a disastrous result for the highly ranked Argentinian.
In another men's singles marathon, 19th-ranked Kevin Anderson outlasted Edouard Roger-Vasselin on Day 5. Anderson barely made it past the unranked Frenchman 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 7-5 despite hitting 82 winners, 39 more than his opponent.
Anderson was nearly doomed by his 69 unforced errors, but he dug down and fought off match point to emerge with the win.
From 0-4 down, Kevin Anderson wins fourth set TB 7-5 over Edouard Roger-Vasselin to force a fifth set. Big stuff from the big guy. #AusOpen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 17, 2014
Looking ahead, the men's semifinals would likely see Nadal play the winner of Murray and Federer. Djokovic remains a strong bet for the finals as the three-time defending champ at the tournament.
In women's singles, Azarenka will have to dispatch No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in the quarterfinals, but doing so would probably lead to a finals clash with either No. 4 Li Na or Ivanovic.