What Maria Sharapova's Loss to Dominika Cibulkova Means for French Open

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2014

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 06:  Maria Sharapova of Russia wipes sweat of her face during practice ahead of the 2014 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 6, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Maria Sharapova has been eliminated from the Australian Open by Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round, ending her quest for a second title at the season's first major tournament.

ESPN's Howard Bryant made note of Sharapova's defeat:

Yet after the match she remained optimistic, via ESPN Tennis:

Hopes were high for Sharapova coming into the event. She looked back to full strength during her run to the semifinals in Brisbane after sitting out since August with a shoulder injury. She also had success in the Grand Slam opener each of the past two years, reaching the final in 2012 and the semifinals in 2013.

CNN passed along comments from the four-time major champion after her return match in Brisbane and she talked about getting goosebumps from getting back on the court:

"I think I was just really determined to get back on the court," Sharapova told reporters. "It's been a while. I think the whole team was really ready to go out.

"I knew I was going to play Monday night a little bit ago already. I got goosebumps when I heard because I was looking forward to today even a week ago.

"It's those days you work for. It was a big step to come and a big step to play out there tonight."

Unfortunately for Sharapova, that anticipation and return to health didn't translate to another deep run in Australia. The early exit at the first big event of the year would normally be a significant concern for a top player, but her situation is different.

It always takes some time to get back into complete match fitness, certainly more than one warm-up tournament. So the fact she wasn't in top form quite yet probably shouldn't come as a surprise.

Luckily for the Russian superstar, the next major, the French Open, is still four months away. That leaves plenty of time to find that top form and rest to make sure she doesn't have any further setbacks with her shoulder.

Roland Garros is another place where Sharapova has enjoyed success in recent years. She won the tournament to complete the career Grand Slam in 2012 and reached the final again last year before losing to Serena Williams.

Assuming Sharapova is able to enter that tournament a little more prepared than her shoulder injury allowed her to be for Australia, she will undoubtedly be one of the favorites once again.

All told, while the Australian Open didn't go according to plan, it's not time to start waving any red flags. It's a very long season. If the loss kicks off a trend of early exits that lasts until the French Open, then it will become a concern.

Don't bet on that happening, though. Sharapova should bounce back quickly and restore herself as one of the top contenders on tour in the coming months leading into the next major.