It took less than two brutal hours at Wimbledon on Monday to disprove the theory that Serena and Venus Williams could march back to continue their domination of the grasscourt slam having hardly swung their rackets in anger for months.
First defending champion Serena was bundled out in the fourth round 6-3, 7-6 by livewire Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli and, with that news still being absorbed on a sweltering day at the All England Club, five-times champion Venus was destroyed 6-2, 6-3 by Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova.
The Manic Monday carnage in the women's draw was not confined to the American siblings who had won nine of the last 11 women's singles titles at Wimbledon.
World number one Caroline Wozniacki was also dispatched 1-6, 7-6, 7-5 by Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova to leave 2004 champion Maria Sharapova as the clear favourite for the title. The Russian fifth seed overpowered China's Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-2.
Things went more according to the script in the men's singles with home favourite Andy Murray producing a regal performance to crush Richard Gasquet 7-6, 6-3, 6-2 and keep alive hopes of a first British men's singles champion for 75 years.
Murray was joined in the quarter-finals by world number two Novak Djokovic, the Serb enjoying a stress-free passage against French serve and volleyer Michael Llodra.
Djokovic will be wary of his next opponent, however, after 18-year-old Australian qualifier Bernard Tomic became the youngest man to reach the last eight since Boris Becker in 1986, following his thrashing of fifth seed Robin Soderling with an equally impressive win over Belgium's Xavier Malisse.
Serena, who returned from 11 months out with a lacerated foot and then life-threatening blood clots just in time for Wimbledon, had spent the first three rounds shaking off the rust and appeared to be rediscovering the firepower that has brought the 29-year-old 13 grand slam titles.
Once again Serena scrapped like an alley-cat but the unorthodox Bartoli, beaten by Venus in the 2007 final, proved a match too far for the champion whose hopes of three consecutive titles evaporated in oppressive heat on Court One.
After defeat, though, she fired out an ominous warning.
"Even today I lost, but I was able to kind of hang in there and play tough," Williams, who was watched by friend and soul diva Beyonce, told reporters.
"And I can only get better. And that can potentially be really scary, because I can only go up from here and I can just do so much more."
Bartoli appeared to be playing with fire at times, jumping around inside the baseline as her opponent wound up her mighty serve and fist-pumping towards Williams after big points.
She carried it off, though, claiming her first victory over the American on her fifth match point after some fidgety moments for father and coach Walter, who Bartoli banished from court on Saturday.
There was enough nervous tension on court to string a racket as 26-year-old Bartoli continually carved out chances but failed to take them before finally prevailing.
"Usually during those matches when I was playing against some great champion like Serena or something like that, I was a bit more shy," said Bartoli, who had stopped bouncing around by the time she held her press conference.
"It's really important for me to believe that I can win thematch and overall act as a winner. Beating Serena is a dream come true, she is one of the greatest champions."
While Serena at least went down fighting, 31-year-old Venus produced a lame performance against Pironkova, the player who stopped her in the quarter-finalslast year.
"UnfortunatelyI seem not to have my good days against her," Venus said. "I think we both envisioned seeing this day going a little bit different."
With all eight men's and women's last-16matches slated on the schedule, unique in the grand slams, the All England Club was abuzz from the moments the gates swung open on a sweltering morning in leafy south west London.
Therecently married Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge did have the best seats in the house and would have given their royal seal of approval to the world number four's most impressive display this year.
Like the planes stacking up to land at nearby Heathrow Airport, seven grand slam champions began the day looking for clearance into the quarter-finals.
With the Williams sisters packing their bags the Venus Rosewater Dish could get a new name on it on Saturday although Sharapova, whose career launched into orbit when she lifted the silverware as a 17-year-old in 2004,will take some stopping.
Twoplayers hoping to claim a first grand slam title, Czech Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka, also impressed.
Eighth seed Kvitova, a semi-finalist last year, thrashed Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium 6-0 6-2 and fourth seed Azarenka, whose wailing again drowned out the rumble of low flying jets, overwhelmed Russia's Nadia Petrova 6-2 6-2to seal a clash with outsider Tamira Paszek.
Germany's Sabine Lisicki is still on course to become the first wildcard to win the women's singles after a 7-6 6-1defeat of Petra Cetkovska and will next face Bartoli. Sharapova eases past Peng
Meanwhile, former champion Maria Sharapova overpowered Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals.
With fiance Sasha Vujacic roaring his approval on a sweltering Court Two, the Russian fifth seed had a few early problems against the unorthodox Chinese before striding away to the last eight on the lawns for the first time since 2006.
The 2004 champion had to save two break points as the opening two games took nearly 15 minutes and her forehand and serve were both a little hit-or-miss.
Peng, who hits double-handed off both sides, threatened again with Sharapova serving at 3-4 but the blonde ramped up the volume and the power on her bludgeoning forehand to stay on level terms then broke through in the next game.
Peng, playing in the fourth round of Wimbledon for the first time, panicked, going down 0-40 and although a couple of beefy serves clawed back two of the break points Sharapova pounced on the third when her opponent made a mess of a forehand she was forced to play one-handed.
Sharapova served out the set to love with an ace and there was sense of inevitability about the rest of the match as she eased through the second set.
The Florida-based 24-year-old, still to drop a set at the championships this year, will face either world number one Caroline Wozniacki or Dominika Cibulkova in the last eight.
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