- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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WIMBLEDON, England -- Six months ago, Maria Sharapova looked truly ready to dominate women's tennis.
She won the Australian Open, defeating three of her closest rivals -- Justine Henin, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic -- in the process. Four years of consistently terrific tennis brought her two Grand Slam singles titles, but the mayhem in Melbourne suggested she was about to separate from the peloton. When Henin retired abruptly before the French Open, it seemed like a certainty.
Sharapova's loss to Dinara Safina in the fourth round at Roland Garros came with an asterisk; clay is not conducive to her power game. Surely, Wimbledon, where the grass is always greener, would be a different story.
Not so much.
There is now a native Russian who lives in Florida in the third round, but her name isn't Sharapova. It's 20-year-old Alla Kudryavtseva, who advanced after an astonishing 6-2, 6-4 victory on Court No. 1.
It was Sharapova's earliest exit from a Grand Slam since the 2003 U.S. Open, when she was just 16 years old.
And so, in a span of less than 27 hours, chaos has reigned at the All England Club, where members might be forgiven for wishing it had rained cats and dogs instead.
Wimbledon has lost two legitimate contenders for the crown and, very nearly, a third in second-round matches. A day after No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic was ushered from the tournament by Marat Safin, Sharapova (herself a No. 3 seed) is now gone. No. 1 seed Ana Ivanovic needed to save two match points -- one of them on a net chord -- to survive her second-round match Wednesday.
Two top-seeded American men, No. 6 Andy Roddick and No. 9 James Blake, also surprisingly departed well ahead of the time. Roddick -- tipped as a viable threat to the big three -- lost to Janko Tipsarevic in four sets, and Blake went five before losing effort to Rainer Schuettler.
While Safin's victory over Djokovic was surprising, he was a two-time Grand Slam champion. Kudryavtseva? Her biggest previous Grand Slam run was winning two matches in Paris last year. She had won all of five WTA-level matches coming into this event; her biggest victory coming over Bethanie Mattek. Sharapova is ranked No. 2 in the world, while Kudryavtseva is ranked No. 154.
Stunning isn't too strong a word.
Sharapova still seemed shell-shocked when she met the media a half-hour later.
Why was she tentative?
"Not sure," Sharapova said softly. "Very good question. A question I'll be asking myself later today."
Sharapova's serve has been an ongoing concern, most recently at the French Open. On Thursday, she served nine games and was broken five times. She had eight double-faults, three in the sixth game of the first set, which led to Kudryavtseva's first break.
"I think then I realized that she's not at her best," Kudryavtseva said.
"She's got a little bit of the yips," said BBC commentator Tracy Austin. "She couldn't get serves in crucial situations."
Kudryavtseva might not win this tournament -- she might not even win the next match, against Shuai Peng of China -- but she has a sassy, sparkling persona. In her postmatch news conference, she was fast and flighty in English, her second language, and exhibited approximately 400 percent more personality than Sharapova
Coming out of the interview session, the British tabloid writers were chortling over their good fortune, clapping each other on the back and laughing about the wonderful headlines she had no doubt inspired.
Maria comes up short(s)
AK-47 takes down Maria
Alla slags Maria!
Part of her motivation to beat Sharapova, Kudryavtseva revealed, was because she didn't like her shorts-and-tuxedo (formal, yet casual) outfit. Honest.
"I don't like her outfit," Kudryavtseva said. "Can I put it this way? It's a little too much of everything, of the same thing."
When the writers tried to dig deeper, she laughed.
"Now, c'mon," Kudryavtseva said. "Now you're going to take me to the fashion discussion. I'm not very good in fashion. I don't know the trends."
Is it the outfit, or the fact that Sharapova's outfits draw so much attention?
"Kind of both," Kudryavtseva said. "I mean, she experiments, and I give her credit for that. She's brave enough to experiment. Sometimes she has good ones, sometimes not.
"That's my personal opinion. Maybe someone will tell me I dress terribly."
Kudryavtseva said she didn't take to tennis initially.
"I actually quit when I was 5," she said. "I came back when I was 8."
Her father, Alexander, was a Greco-Roman wrestling world champion, whom she credited for her fighting spirit.
"Thanks, Dad," she said in her on-court interview when the subject was raised.
Kudryavtseva, in all seriousness, has grown up a lot in the past year. In the first round at the 2007 Wimbledon tournament, on Court No. 2, she split sets with another marquee player, Venus Williams, and found herself leading 5-3 in the third.
"I was so close to winning, and then just played a little too passive in the end," said Kudryavtseva, who lost the last four games after being within two points of winning. "So today I was like, 'There's no way I'm going to do the same mistake again,' so I went for my shots."
The last shot, a thunderous cross-court forehand, landed deep in the right corner. Sharapova swung and missed.
Is Kudryavtseva worried that Sharapova might be tempted to take another swing when she hears about those comments on her fashion choices?
"If I'm not afraid to play her, and she's world No. 3, I'm not afraid she's going to catch me in the dressing room and say, 'You know what? You said you didn't like my outfit. You were wrong.'
"I will say, 'Sorry. That's just my opinion.'"
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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