64% - not bad.
Mon, September 2, 2002
Kournikova's critics lose sight of her accomplishments
Stephen C. Smith Sr., Times Record News
Anna, Anna, Anna.
What is it about Anna Kournikova that makes some writers cross the line between sports journalist and sleazy tabloid hack? I mean, you can usually find more information about who she's dating this week than you can on how she did in a tournament.
A modern day Helen of Troy, Kournikova is the face (or posterior) that launches a million flashbulbs every time she steps onto a tennis court.
But for someone who seems to be living such a charmed life, she does get her fair share of criticism. Most of it centers on her dubious distinction of having participated in 115 Women's Tennis Association events and never winning one of them.
However, that very statement is deceiving.
Fourteen currently active WTA players, including Kournikova, turned professional in 1995. Coming into this year, they had played 4,304 matches and won 58 percent of them.
As a group, they have amassed 12 Grand Slam titles and 55 regular tour titles.
Ten of the Grand Slams and 25 of the tour titles belong to Serena Williams, the other two Slams belong to Kournikova.
That's right, Kournikova.
She has won two doubles Grand Slams and 15 doubles titles on tour. Besides that, she's actually won 64 percent of her singles matches, which is better than 11 of the 14 players who started with her in 1995.
Shocked? Don't be.
This is the part most of the critics usually leave out when they start to dissect her game.
A look at her career highlights reveals two things - a pretty successful career thus far and a little sexism:
* She's one of only eight players who have beaten both Steffi Graf and Martina Hingis.
* She beat a reigning world No. 1 player before her 17th birthday.
* She's won four consecutive matches against Top-10 players in one tournament.
But her accomplishments are peppered with terms like "glamorous Russian" and "21-year-old Russian beauty."
It makes me wonder what it would take to calm Richard Williams down if his daughter Serena was described as "the curvaceous African-American" or some other demeaning nonsense.
And then there's the other thing.
From what I've seen, a lot of this Anna bashing seems to be about money.
Kournikova makes an additional $15 million a year from endorsement deals with Adidas, Omega and Berlei among others, and despite her struggles in singles tennis, is easily the most recognizable tennis player on the planet.
Due to this, I've seen several less-than-attractive female tennis commentators lament on how bad she is for the game and how she has objectified herself in the process.
That's interesting, too.
I don't remember seeing any scathing criticism of Michael Jordan, Jim Palmer or Roger Craig when they were hawking men's underwear a few years ago. So why is Kournikova catching any for what she does?
Her plight reminds me a lot of Andre Agassi back in the early 1990's when image was everything and not winning wasn't really that big a deal.
Andre shook it off, realized his potential and became a champion. Maybe Anna will, too.
"I think if I didn't think I could improve, I wouldn't be trying," Kournikova said recently. "And I think anybody can improve at anything if they work hard and do the things they have to do."
And even if she never does win a singles title, will it ever occur to anyone that maybe she's just a better doubles player?
Such is the downside of beauty - people expect perfection no matter how difficult it is to attain.
According to Greek legend, Helen of Troy was eventually rescued from her tormentors.
Hopefully, so will Kournikova.
Staff sports writer Stephen C. Smith Sr. can be reached after 4 p.m. at 1-800-627-1646 or (940) 720-3470 or via e-mail at email@example.com