The return of Anna is most welcome here
by Scott Ostler
San Francisco Chronicle
Posted by WTAFANS TEAM
WHEN DID Anna Kournikova, tomato, become a tomato can?
When did the women's tour become Everyone Beats Anna?
Going into her Tuesday night opening match of the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, Kournikova had lost in the first round at four consecutive tournaments, and nine of her past 11.
Never before has someone so beautiful and so famous and so seemingly talented lost so often and so early.
Is Anna kaput at 21? Gradually becoming nothing more than a hood ornament for the women's tour?
No! Good news for those of you whose Gregorian calendars are graced with color photographs of Ms. Kournikova: She's back.
Or at least she's on her way.
Kournikova upset Anna Smashnova 6-3, 6-2.
Anna K wins a match! Anna K wins a match!
"I think that losing so many matches in a row, I tried to learn from them," Kournikova said.
It was the college of hard knocks. Tuesday was a graduation of sorts.
Kournikova looked great. I'm referring to her tennis. Her outfit looked good, too, if you're into that kind of midriff-bearing, white-yellow-blue pastel tennis togs.
She overpowered Smashnova, went to the net often and effectively and didn't lapse into her old nervous habit of double-faulting (a record 31 DFs in a '99 match that she won).
Old Kournikova looked like the old Kournikova.
Remember that younger Anna, who rose to No. 8 in the world two years ago, and if she didn't win tournaments, at least she was becoming an occasional visitor in the finals?
Then, injuries. And maybe a loss of focus.
Too many distractions? Too many hockey boyfriends? Too many endorsement deals? Whatever the reasons, she sank in the rankings like a cheap donut in your coffee mug.
Now: She has a new coach, she dumped her mom (as coach), she has a new 'tude, is healthy. Who knows? Anna someday might win a tournament.gone through a lot of changes, in my game and my life," Kournikova said. "I'm starting to feel really comfortable. Today's match, that's a great step forward."
But still a ways to go. If you're keeping score at home, this is Kournikova's 112th pro tour event. That's a seven-season oh-fer. Winner of $3. 3 million and zero tournaments.
That streak likely will continue here, because Kournikova is one win away from facing Venus Williams, who ousted Anna from this tourney in '99 and 2000.
Still, this match was big. Huge.
"I've lost a lot of matches, but I was working on certain things," Kournikova said. "Now it looks like it's coming together. We knew it wouldn't happen overnight."
Did any fans give up on her?
"It's too bad for the people that gave up on me," she said with a laugh, "but I've always felt great support from my family, my friends and the fans."
No. 1 in Kournikova's support group right now is her new coach, Harold Solomon. He said before the match that this would be a great test. "Smashnova is very tough, very quick," Solomon said.
And has two tour wins this year.
Solomon came on board two months ago. He's making changes. "I'm putting my game back together," Kournikova said.
Reworking everything. Footwork. Serve. Grip. And especially, back to more classic serve-and-volley tennis.
"I don't have the patience (to stay on the baseline)," Kournikova said. "It's not my style of game."
Sounds great, but the public still might be skeptical. Is Anna K working hard, or hardly working?
"She's totally committed," Solomon said. "She's as committed as anyone. Tennis is way more important to her than the rest of the stuff."
She's working out five to six hours a day, 6 1/2 days a week. It's paying off. I'm no expert, but I'd say Kournikova looks really really fit.
She's always had the tennis skills.
"She has some of the best hands of anybody, and she's quick," Solomon said. "She can play shots only a couple of other girls can play. She has as much talent as anybody."
Talent-schmalent. The question is, is Anna K ready to play?
"I've gone though a lot of changes in my game and my life," she said. "I'm starting to feel really comfortable, after today's match. That's a great step forward."
Mark that day on your calendar, fans. Groovy Tuesday.