Anna's in town
Kournikova brings cover-girl allure, solid on-court skills to World TeamTennis
Now 25 and living in Miami, Moscow-born Anna Kournikova is playing five matches with the Sacramento Capitals this summer.
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• Tickets and more info on Delaware Smash.
IF YOU GO
Anna Kournikova and the Sacramento Capitals vs. the Delaware Smash.
AstraZeneca Tennis Facility, Route 202, Wilmington.
Tonight at 7.
Call 774-4238 or visit www.delawaresmash.com
Anna Kournikova was tempted. That, she admits.
When friend and former doubles partner Martina Hingis announced she'd return to the pro tennis circuit in 2006 after a three-year hiatus, Kournikova had similar notions.
Hingis won 40 career singles titles, including five Grand Slams. That's 40 more than Kournikova won. Hingis has tennis ability that Kournikova does not.
But Kournikova has something others don't -- a look that has made her far more successful in the lens of a camera than she'd ever be as just a tennis player.
"It definitely sparked my curiosity," Kournikova said of Hingis' return during a recent conference call. "It would be so cool [to rejoin to the WTA tour].
"At the same time, I look at it as, I'd only come back if I was 100 percent, mentally and physically. I'm excited for Martina. She has so much more to give to the game."
Kournikova doesn't need tennis, so busy is she with her myriad, multi-million-dollar endorsement deals and the business of being her blonde, beautiful self.
Forbes conservatively listed her 2005 earnings as $5 million and she is easily one of the world's most recognizable females.
But Kournikova doesn't wish to completely distance herself from tennis, which gave her the initial exposure to become a global icon.
That's where World TeamTennis -- and the reason for her visit to Delaware tonight -- comes in.
Now 25 and living in Miami, the Moscow-born Kournikova is playing five matches with the Sacramento Capitals this summer. The first is tonight at 7 at the AstraZeneca Tennis Facility on Route 202 in Wilmington against the Delaware Smash.
"Of all the players," Smash co-owner and general manager Jeff Harrison said of the 5-foot-8, 123-pound Kournikova, "she is the true rock star of tennis. People are excited."
A sellout crowd of 2,000 is expected, but about 200 tickets remained on Wednesday. Fans won't be there to root for the hometown Smash, playing the first of seven home matches this month.
"She brings a lot of excitement to the game, especially among the guys," Smash coach Mariaan deSchwart said. "She's still a decent player. She's still a competitor and wants to win. It'll be tough competition."
Pre-match events include an Anna Kournikova look-alike contest.
Smash season-ticket holder Barbara Blumberg of Wilmington says that, for all Kournikova's allure, it's her tennis that ultimately is most pleasing on the eyes.
"She is an amazing player," said Blumberg, who saw Kournikova play against the Philadelphia Freedoms a few years ago at Cabrini College. "Everybody knows who Anna Kournikova is. To see her at her game, close up here in Wilmington, is an amazing thing."
Kournikova reached the semifinals of Wimbledon as a 16-year-old in 1997, losing to eventual champion Hingis 6-3, 6-2. Most of her subsequent success there, however, was as billboard eye candy.
During her days on the WTA Tour, Kournikova climbed as high as No. 8 in the world rankings but never, in 130 career tournaments, won a title. She was a finalist four times.
Back trouble, inconsistency and her burgeoning career as a model and product- pitch person conspired to end her full-time tennis career. Along the way, she had singles wins over top-ranked players such as Hingis, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport.
Kournikova did have some success in doubles, teaming with Hingis to win Australian Open titles in 1999 and 2002. This is Kournikova's fourth year in World TeamTennis, where the part-time brand appeals to her.
"It's very competitive, but it's a level for me," she said. "Physically, personally, it's a very short amount of time. My back doesn't get bad. The problem with the injury is, playing on tour, you have to play tournaments every week. You're playing every single day. With team tennis, I can play matches and start preparing for it a short time before."
That leaves more time for the lucrative business of being Anna.