Fans happy to see Kournikova play
By ERIN BRUEHL
THE JOURNAL NEWS
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(Original publication: July 9, 2006)
MAMARONECK — The fans cheered for her, the flashbulbs went off, and the announcer introduced her on court by asking the crowd, "Are you ready to welcome tonight's special guest?"
Upon hearing her name as the last of the Sacramento Capitals to be introduced, Anna Kournikova jogged onto the court in navy-blue warm-up pants with white stripes up the sides and a matching jacket, with her long blonde hair in a high ponytail. She got the loudest ovation of any Capital introduced.
And while World TeamTennis is not the biggest stage Kournikova, once ranked as high as No. 8 in the world in singles, has played on, the fans who came to the Sportimes' stadium at Harbor Island Park were happy to see her play.
Kournikova and the Capitals defeated the Sportimes 19-18 in the Sportimes' first home match of the season last night.
While Kournikova, 25, has not played on the WTA Tour since 2003 due to back problems, and has never won a singles title in her career on the tour (although she did win two Grand Slam doubles titles with Martina Hingis), she still has quite a fan base. Whether fans enjoyed her game or her beauty — she was once named one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" — fans last night agreed that any marquee name was a draw to the small Harbor Island Park stadium.
Anthony and Linda Ruggiero of New Rochelle are both tennis fans who miss seeing Kournikova play on tour. They found out Kournikova would be playing in Mamaroneck just yesterday.
"I was driving by this afternoon and I said, 'Let me see who's playing.' I called (Anthony) and I said, 'Anna is playing; do you want to go?' " Linda Ruggiero said. "I've seen her play at the U.S. Open, playing doubles with Hingis. It's a shame (she is not on the tour anymore). She was a good personality, a nice draw."
"It's a pretty big draw, especially considering she hasn't been playing on the tour," Anthony Ruggiero said.
Before the match started, Kournikova made an appearance at the VIP hospitality tent. As she walked away, she obliged several fans requesting pictures with her.
Joe Marcello, his daughter Natalie and girlfriend Joselly Torres, from Bronxville, were some lucky fans who, with the help of a photographer friend, got a family picture with Kournikova.
"That's my new selling point: 'Hi, I'm Joe, and I had my picture taken with Anna Kournikova,' '' Marcello jokingly said.
Kournikova played mixed doubles with Sam Warburg, losing 5-2 to David Martin and Ashley Harkleroad with calls of "Let's go Anna!" from the stands. She came right back on the court for women's doubles, the last match of the evening, with Abigal Spears vs. Harkleroad and Vladka Uhlirova, losing the set 4-1, which tied the match at 18-18. The same players stayed on the court for a super tiebreaker, which Kournikova and Spears won 7-4 for the 19-18 win.
Friends Charlie Holodak and Lowell Harrison, both of Yonkers, were glad when their friend Dan Giovannangelo, of Mamaroneck, told them Kournikova was playing.
Giovannangelo had been to World TeamTennis before and enjoyed the small stadiums.
"I saw Andy Roddick play in Schenectady a few years back and I enjoyed it. It was nice to be up-close and personal with the tennis stars," he said. "I suggested to the guys we come see Anna play. I follow the pro circuits, and it's so close (right in Mamaroneck).''
"Yes, she is (the reason I came) and I'm not ashamed to say it," Holodak said. "This is an up-close and personal atmosphere; you don't get as many people (as opposed to the U.S. Open), and the marquee name is a draw.''