She came. She played. She lost. In the most anticipated match in the first round of the Sarasota Clay Court Classic, Anna Kournikova started with whimper and went out quietly at the end. But in between … what a tease.
Kournikova, one of the shining stars in the sports world, burned brightly but briefly here Tuesday before she finally flamed out of her first-round match against Iva Majoli, falling 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in a night match at The Meadows Country Club.
Playing like she was late for a date on South Beach, Kournikova fell behind 5-0, then suddenly rediscovered the game that helped her reach a career-high No. 8 ranking to give Majoli a major scare in the first round of the $140,000 Women's Tennis Association tournament.
Kournikova, playing with great effort for much of the match after the lackluster start, began applying pressure by roaring back from the 5-0 deficit to get to 5-4 before losing the first set. She then took the second set and broke Majoli's serve to open the third set to give tennis fans hope of getting more than a one-time glimpse at the tennis diva.
Trailing 2-0 and then 2-1 in the final set, Majoli broke back in the fourth game to get even and held to go up 3-2 and never trailed again.
The former French Open champion finished by breaking Kournikova the final four times the 21-year old Russian served.
"Could have, might have," Kournikova said about how the match might have been different had she started finding her game sooner. "Obviously I came out and didn't play so well and she was playing great in the beginning.
"The main point of the match is that I took a big step from the way I played last week (a 6-1, 6-4 loss to Dinara Safina in the Nasdaq-100 Open). That was important for me. I was disappointed in the loss but, in the end, three or four points could have decided the match. She just played better."
The loss of Kournikova was the final disappointment on a day when the tournament lost three seeded players, including Jelena Dokic, the top seed and defending champion who dropped a 6-3, 6-3 decision to Paula Suarez. Also falling Tuesday were fourth-seeded Ai Sugiyama, who was beaten 6-2, 7-5 by Conchiita Martinez and eighth-seeded Tatiana Panova, a finalist last year, who dropped a 6-3, 7-5 to Iroda Tulyaganova.
Kournikova, ranked No. 66, is the most famous tennis player to have never won a tournament, but she gave the tennis fans something to cheer about with the way she fought to get back into the match. In the end, Majoli, ranked No. 32, was able to pull herself together and play the biggest points a little more solidly against a player who came into the tournament having played just four matches this year because of a bad back.
"The third set was a battle but I was a little more patient on the big points and she made mistakes," Majoli said about winning the match between players who knew each other from their days together at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton.
"It was funny," Majoli said. "We were talking before the match about our time together at the academy. Here we both grew up here and come back to this tournament and have to play each other right away."
Both players now live in Miami but ran into each other this week in the same Sarasota restaurant and then battled on the tennis court for an hour and 45 minutes, with Majoli moving on in the half of the draw that has opened up because of the rash of upsets.
While each player came up with a few spectacular shots, the match was rife with errors and particularly shoddy serving. Majoli had her serve broken nine times and Kournikova's serve was broken 10 times
"Both of us struggled on serve and Anna has a very good return," Majoli said.
Once Kournikova finally held serve in the sixth game of the match, eliciting cheers from the crowd, she became a different player and put Majoli on the defensive.
"I just kind of said, 'OK you have lost the set,' and I became more aggressive," Kournikova said about the run after getting down 5-0. "I kind of went for my shots more. I really had to find a way to stretch her out and kind of mix it up a little bit."
There was also a picture and Anna changed her outfit and I was amazed at that! She has a very conservative outfit!!!
About the match, she obviously started really late again! The only thing she has to work on is her fucking serve! She has the kind of return to break her opponent everytime but with a serve like that