Injury delays Anna's back to basics plan
April 17 2003 at 01:03PM
By Ossian Shine
London - Anna Kournikova's radical 'back-to-basics' plan has been put on hold by a niggling thigh injury, tennis chiefs said on Thursday.
The Russian's strategy to arrest her free-fall from grace involves stepping down to compete in the lower echelons of the sport for the first time in seven years.
Dothan, Alabama was the chosen venue for the most photographed woman in sport to rebuild her confidence at a $75 000 ITF Women's Circuit Tournament.
However, the thigh injury which forced her to quit last week's Family Circle Cup in Charleston, South Carolina, has not healed in time and the Russian has had to withdraw her name from the low-key field next week.
Instead it is planned that the long road back to form will start at Sea Island in Georgia at the beginning of May.
The lure of Berlin - where she has been offered a wildcard to compete in the $1,26-million German Open - may yet prove too strong, however.
To date, though, she is still entered in the $25 000 claycourt event in the Peach State.
Suggestions that Kournikova should step down to the lower levels of professional tennis had, in the past, provoked fury from the Russian. But after four first-round defeats in the five top-flight tournaments she has played this year, it now seems she sees it as the way ahead.
The move mirrors steps taken by Andre Agassi, who returned to the men's challenger circuit in 1998 with his game in tatters and ranked 141st in the world.
A year later he achieved the ultimate in tennis - winning the French Open to join Fred Perry, Don Budge, Roy Emerson and Rod Laver as the only players in the history of men's tennis to have won all four grand slam tournaments.
Since then he has won four more grand slams to bring his haul to eight and shows no sign of letting up.
Kournikova can only dream of such radical results but certainly some wins under her belt could work wonders.
She has two Women's Circuit titles to her name, the $50 000 Midland, Texas crown and the $25 000 Rockford, Illinois titles, both won seven years ago when she last played at this level.
Her ranking, and confidence, have been on the slide since she tipped in at world number eight back in May 2001.
Now ranked a lowly 67th, the US-based Russian knows drastic steps are required if she is to ever fulfil her enormous early promise.
Still only 21-year-old, she is not a patch on the player who reached the semi-finals in her first year in the main draw of Wimbledon in 1997.
Whether a stint on the tennis slow lane will turn her from little more than a photogenic curiosity into a credible contender remains to be seen.