COVERSTORY: Anna! Is She For Real?
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ALSO GO TO kournikova.com to hear the anna song! it is SO funny!!!
Women’s Tennis has had its share of stars and beauties over the years ranging from the exotic Gabriela Sabatini to the girl next door Chris Evert. But arguably no star has shone quite like the 21 year old Russian beauty Anna Kournikova. Angered and disgraced in her first round Wimbledon loss to fellow Russian Tatiana Panova this year and the following BBC television interview gone bad, Kournikova went on a summer hardcourt winning streak of sorts. In California, though fresh off numerous injuries she posted wins over among others the former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez and fellow hotshot Alexandra Stevenson to compile a 6-2 record with semifinal and quarterfinal finishes before falling in hard-fought battles to top four ranked players Venus Williams and Jelena Dokic. Recently voted the sexiest woman in the world by a top men’s magazine and possibly forever the topic of thousands of “high quality” image websites, Anna Kournikova is most definitely very beautiful as well as a still promising tennis talent, but is she for real?
In Moscow, on Sunday, June 7th, 1981, Alla and Sergei Kournikov gave birth to a daughter, whom they named Anna. Coming from an athletic family, Alla was a tennis player and Sergei, a Greco-Roman wrestler; it is no wonder that at the prodigious age of five, Kournikova started to play tennis. Competing with friends for fun and using a tennis racket paid for with a sold family television, Anna quickly attracted interest for her talent at such a young age and a contract with IMG. In February of 1992 at age 10, she moved to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, to be with her coach, Nick Bollettieri. But after a world number one junior ranking and an explosive pro debut which included losing to Steffi Graf as a qualifier in the fourth round of the 1996 US Open, Kournikova’s career took unexpected rollercoaster twists and turns from which she has yet to fully recover.
A coaching merry-go-round, a slew of injuries, the arrival of bigger and stronger power players such as the Americans Venus and Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport as well as her own tactical oncourt immaturity may have for the moment prevented singles grand slam titles from Kournikova, but nothing has or seemingly could ever stop Anna’s success commercially. Despite never having won a singles title in any professional tennis event, Anna Kournikova banks upwards of fifteen million dollars annually due in part to her superstar good looks which remain a source of criticism for her. Asked one too many times if her face interferes with her tennis in a post match press conference Kournikova snapped, “I can’t change my face! I would have to be reborn.” Adidas sportswear, Omega watches, Yonex tennis rackets, Lycos internet search engine and Berlei bras are most notable corporate sponsors capitalizing on Kournikova’s wide-ranging sex appeal. “Only the balls should bounce” quipped the latter. Anna has it seems even traded long time “friend” and hockey player Sergei Federov in for hipper singer Enrique Igelesias in whose music video “Escape” Anna appeared. Not to be outdone, independent pop band Binge recently announced the release of their new CD; with the both the CD and the first rocking single being entitled, what else? “Anna Kournikova.” Sample lyrics go: “Anna Kournikova, I kinda wanna know ya. Anna Kournikova with the eyes so blue! If it wasn’t for tennis, I would never know you. You can stay at my place if you want to crash. Backhand, forehand, overhand smash! Let me be your ballboy now!” But would Kournikova prefer Jennifer Lopez’s hit single “I’m Real”?
It’s the same old question asked in endless variations. One wonders if Anna might hear it in her sleep. Q. “Do you have a goal Anna for your first tournament win?” Now Anna seems to have developed her own endless variations answer. “The good thing is that I did play well, you know, in the last couple months or so, so that's a good thing. But, you know, I guess I'll just have to, you know, do better and work harder next time.” Friendly and smiling one second, an icy staredown the next. Anna Kournikova goes on to state she is just here to play tennis. She was ranked as high as number eight in 2000-01 and has won two Grand Slam tournament doubles titles. Can past wins over Steffi Graf, Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport be all that far away? Lingering injuries forced her out of the top 100 this year, but she has climbed back to number thirty seven training six hours a day with Coach Harold Solomon. Chris Evert, a six-time U.S. Open champion, says Kournikova is playing her best tennis in three years. "I would not count her out," Evert says. "She still has the talent and movement to have a shot." A US Open first round flop may have eliminated tennis’ Russian star for now but she will return. And what will this fall and the 2003 season bring for Anna?
Through the years Kournikova has shown an impeccable work ethic and has developed a versatile all-court game but has problems still with her shot selection and her balance of patience and aggression. A thumb and a wrist injury have taken tolls on her serve and overall game but Anna remains confident that her game will come back together soon.
"Sometimes people are rougher on me," Kournikova told us. "If that's what they think, well, then good luck to them. I don't have to prove anything or convince anybody to think good things about me. I'm doing my thing, and you can't please everyone. I'm back in the USA and wanted to check in and say hi. I was so happy to be back at Wimbledon this year! It was really difficult to have to sit it out last year because of my injury. For me, it's a very special place--the traditions and the history make it different from any other tournament, and I always look forward to playing there. I had a great time playing doubles with Chanda Rubin. We made it to the semifinals and defeated the number one seeds and defending Wimbledon champions Raymond and Stubbs along the way. Jonas Bjorkman and I had fun playing together in mixed doubles, and we got to the quarterfinals. I am working hard to prepare for my upcoming tournaments.” Anna Kournikova may never be the number one tennis player in the world, but in fact she is already number one in the hearts of millions of tennis fans and non-fans worldwide. "Anna is the real thing," says tennis legend Billie Jean King. "She's great off the ground and quick. Most of all, she loves the limelight and loves the show courts. She's having a good time out here and is poised for the big time."