By TIM SULLIVAN
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
San Diego UNION-TRIBUNE
Posted by WTAFANS TEAM
Don't hate Anna Kournikova because she's beautiful. Not unless you're using a sliding scale.
Elizabeth Hurley is beautiful. Halle Berry is beautiful. But if you throw the word around too freely, it loses its meaning ľ the way "genius" does when applied to football coaches or "svelte" when applied to sportswriters.
Anna Kournikova is nice-looking, but she's no closer to beautiful than she is to winning Wimbledon. She's got that bouncy blond thing going for her, good skin and copious curves, but she's more packaging than content. If it weren't for the makeup, the stylists and the clingy clothes, her face would be hard-pressed to launch more than 950 ships.
She's gorgeous by the standards of professional tennis, which is like saying Tony Danza is a great actor for a guy who should be bagging groceries.
Yet if Kournikova's looks excite jealousy and create controversy, it's not because she's so much better looking than her fellow players, but because her celebrity bears no relation to her competitive results. The Internet's most downloaded athlete begins play in the Acura Classic today at La Costa as the world's 47th-ranked female tennis player. She has won exactly zero WTA Tour singles titles, but is probably the biggest star on the circuit.
She has become a cultural symbol of style over substance, the embodiment of glamour in a game that demands grit. Among less charitable minds, Kournikova is a pretty little joke whose every endorsement and modeling contract serves to trivialize more serious women athletes. When Fox's Rob Zimmerman sought to disparage MSNBC's Ashleigh Banfield, he called her, "the Anna Kournikova of TV news."
That Kournikova's first-round meeting with 30th-ranked Alexandra Stevenson is being promoted on the Acura Classic's Web site as today's featured match is a reflection of our tastes rather than Kournikova's talent.
Sex sells. Superb ground strokes have a more limited appeal. An Internet search yesterday found links to 43 Kournikova Web sites, including "Adorable Anna Kournikova," "Amazingly Adorable Anna," "Lovely Anna" and "Anna Kournikova ľ the Goddess of Tennis." A similar search for Serena Williams ľ the world's top-ranked player ľ turned up only 10 sites, none of them predicated on her appearance.
Serena Williams' 2002 accomplishments include the French Open and Wimbledon singles titles. The biggest news Kournikova has made in the past year was in debunking a Penthouse pictorial that purported to show her topless.
"It's disturbing to see this emphasis on the objectified body as opposed to the active body," says former cyclist Laura Robinson, author of 'Black Tights: Women, Sport and Sexuality.' "Anna Kournikova will never make it as an athlete because she puts so much time into being a sex fantasy. Good athletes train two to three times a day and have little time for anything else."
While it's unclear exactly how much time Kournikova spends on her game, the clear consensus is that it's not enough. After Kournikova's first-round exit at Wimbledon, John McEnroe captured the prevailing cynicism about her play in a single, caustic sentence: "It's time for some serious reassessment and some serious practice." McEnroe, never one for understatement, also alleged Kournikova's nerves were shot, her confidence was gone and her conditioning was poor.
"I'm sure Anna would trade the publicity and glamour for a tournament win," echoed Chris Evert. "She has to start taking some responsibility for her tennis career. If she wants to make a success of it, she needs to get hungry and put tennis ahead of making videos and posing for magazine covers. She's gone to another level and people are obsessed with her looks, and that's dangerous territory."
The extent of that danger depends, at least in part, on your perspective. Evert was driven to chase championships. Kournikova may have a different motivation. Not every player can presume to be No. 1, though Kournikova appeared to have that potential when she stormed into the 1997 Wimbledon semifinals in just her fourth Grand Slam event.
Maybe our expectations of her exceed her ability as a tennis player. Maybe her tournament record is a reflection of her relative skill (and/or injuries) rather than her lack of commitment to her craft. Maybe she never was quite as good as she looked.
Friday, after a straight-sets loss to Venus Williams at Stanford, Kournikova believed she had made a breakthrough.
"I actually felt like I was in control on some of the points," she said. "That's a great step for me."
Progress, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
Source - http://www.wtafans.com/wtastory/story_027.html