Anna Kournikova’s name hardly ever gets mentioned in the same sentence as the words “tennis player” anymore, except to point out that Anna Kournikova could have been a great tennis player.
She had the repertoire of shots. She had the upbringing. She made the semifinals at Wimbledon when she was 16, and you can’t do that unless you have some serious talent.
More than anything, though, Kournikova had the look. And that’s where this story begins and ends.
Seems tennis’ anti-Kournikova has a little bit of a problem brewing.
The talk of the WTA Tour the last few days has been defending Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova’s reluctance to participate in a four-hour photo shoot the governing body of women’s tennis set up for her during next week’s tournament in Rome.
Sharapova rebuffed the invitation to the Italian picture party for what seem to be legitimate reasons: First, she has a 15-hour flight from Los Angeles just to get to the tournament. Second, she actually has the crazy idea that she wants to focus more on swinging the racket than sashaying in front of the WTA’s camera.
Meanwhile, she said the WTA gave her 300,000 good reasons not to just skip out on the event altogether — as in, the amount of American dollars she’d be fined.
“I have set my own personal rules when it comes to doing shoots, and I never do shoots before tournaments because they are mentally draining and I just want to focus on my tennis,” Sharapova said on her Web site. “To be honest, I would love to do this and help promote the tour as much as possible, but to force me to do this shoot the day before a tier 1 tournament is just not right.”
After that, Sharapova or her Webmaster posted a poll asking fans to chime in on what she should do. The options ranged from whether she should just do the shoot, take the fine, take legal action against the WTA or organize a boycott.
Quite frankly, you can make a good case for any of them.
To be fair to the WTA, Sharapova is one of the best players on the tour, the third-ranked player in the world and a multi-millionaire based on endorsements alone. The tour can’t afford not to center its marketing around her popularity, and she probably carries the $300,000 to cover the fine in her spare purse.
But this should be about what’s right and what’s wrong, and from a pure decency angle, the only thing wrong here is the double-standard stance demands the WTA.
In women’s sports, you have traditionally been able to go a long way with the look, and nobody took that to a higher level than did Kournikova. She appeared half-dressed in Maxim. She posed twice for Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue. Four times, she was voted one of People Magazine’s most beautiful people. She became famous for being scantily clad.
All the while, commentators, reporters, even some of her colleagues, couldn’t help but talk about how her play suffered.
Sure, she could have been great. She wasn’t though, essentially because she chose not to be. She was popular without tennis, and that’s all she really wanted out of tennis.
Instead, she’s the punch line to a jab women’s tennis hasn’t been shy about throwing over the past five years.
If you listen close enough in
between chuckles at Kournikova, you can hear what’s really going on. The WTA didn’t mind what Kournikova was doing off the tennis court, as long as she was doing her part on the court to glorify the sport.
Now that Sharapova is doing her part on the court, maybe we’re seeing how much the WTA hopes she can be a little more like Kournikova off it.
As close to Kournikova’s visual equal as most men’s magazine readers can stand, Sharapova is on as many posters, in as many commercials and inside as many magazines as Kournikova was, but the difference is that her play got her at least part of the way there.
Want proof? Do a Google search for Anna Kournikova, and a whopping 7.81 million sites appear. Not bad for someone who flamed out of the tennis game five years ago.
But, there are 8.79 million sites that pop up for Sharapova. Which tells you that being a dominant player still counts for something.
If the WTA really wants to promote itself, maybe it should send a photographer out to get photos of Sharapova doing what she is really going to Rome to do.
And that’s play tennis.
And i do agree about the Kournikova first part.