WIMBLEDON, England -- Here's Alla Kudryavtseva. She's 20. She reads Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn. She evidently has a Rottweiler and a parrot. Her father was a world champion Greco-Roman wrestler. She studies at the University of Physical Culture in Moscow and trains in Boca Raton, Fla. She's great fun in a news conference.
At No. 154 in the world, she's also emblematic of a fresh notion born this Wimbledon, that the women's tennis tour might possess more depth than reputed.
After she demonstrated depth by clearing out an entire quarter of the draw with her inconceivable 6-2, 6-4 upset of No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova in the second round Thursday, she gave a theory about the theory about women's tennis' predictability.
"It's guys," she said.
Guys make the theories.
"They always say the women's game is predictable," she said. "They always say you women can't serve, you don't go to the net, you can't slice. No, we can do it all. We're strong. Don't listen to them."
If it hadn't compelled anyone that Dinara Safina reached the French Open final from a No. 14 ranking, here came a Wimbledon just underway, but in which No. 1 Ana Ivanovic and No. 2 Sharapova already have faced grass crises, and No. 4-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova barely weathered the first round against the 124th-ranked player, and No. 5-seeded Elena Dementieva barely weathered either of the first two, ranked Nos. 138 and 71.
With Sharapova flying home, there's going to be a strange semifinalist, maybe even 18-year-old Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, born in July 1989.
Facing match point Wednesday, No. 1 Ivanovic hit a forehand that rammed into the net cord, rose airborne, loitered there a bit, tantalized both players, tried to make up its mind and then landed on the other side of the court. Otherwise Ivanovic would've lost to 97th-ranked Nathalie Dechy of France in a mere second round.
Sharapova went out Thursday and began warming up with Kudryavtseva, whereupon Kudryavtseva found odd confidence. "So I was like, well, I'm in good shape, and she doesn't play her best tennis at the moment, so yeah, I was thinking about winning," she said.
Already she'd led 2007 champion Venus Williams in the 2007 first round, by one set and 2-0 in the second and 3-1 and 5-4 in the third before losing 7-5 and exiting in tears.
Not only did she have such audacity from No. 154, but she even critiqued the diva's fashion choice, Sharapova's short-lived "tuxedo" motif. While Kudryavtseva pleaded she doesn't follow fashion, and praised Sharapova's experimentation, and resembled some sort of garage repairwoman in contrast with her two clunky endorsement patches on her shirt (travel agency, insurance company), she also said, "Well, I don't like her outfit. Can I put it this way?"
The dislike apparently enhanced the victory, and when somebody suggested the review might irk Sharapova, Kudryavtseva said, "If I'm not afraid to go play her when she's world number three" -- two, actually -- "I'm not afraid she's going to catch me in the dressing room and say, 'You know what, you said you don't like my outfit. You were wrong.' I will say, 'Sorry. That's just my opinion.' "
If parity is nigh, maybe that's its signature quotation, No. 154 feeling astride No. 2.
"Everybody can present a challenge," Sharapova said. "Everybody has a lot of strength. Everybody is hungry. This girl that beat me today, she might not win the tournament, but she beat me, and it probably made her tournament."
It did make the best day of her "tennis life," Kudryavtseva said. It also made the epitome of a crazy Wimbledon 2008. For paragons of reliability anymore, you need, well, the Williams sisters.