May 2001? Wow, that was a while ago. I threw it in the garbage, sorry. Maybe you could contact Tennis Mag via internet and ask them.
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PROFILE: Anna Kournikova
5/1/01 5:47 PM
By Peter Bodo
From the May 2001 issue of TENNIS
Photos by Ron Angle
Anna Kournikova has become the world’s most celebrated tennis player despite her on-court results, not because of them. What’s forgotten is that behind the sexy persona is an athlete of enormous talent. But the question remains: Will her game ever catch up to her fame?
It’s almost 11 P.M. on a sultry night in downtown Guayaquil, Ecuador, and the 200 or so fans who began converging on the Hampton Inn at dusk maintain their vigil. They’ve come to catch a glimpse of Anna Kournikova, who should be arriving momentarily. So while strolling tobacco and candy vendors hawk their wares and shoeless, half-clothed urchins play tag under the neon lights, the faithful wait patiently, their faces sheened with sweat and aglow with anticipation. Suddenly, sirens sound in the distance. The faint, flashing blue lights of police motorcycles appear down Guayaquil’s main boulevard, the Avenida 9 de Octobre, leading a motorcade worthy of a visiting head of state. Within a few minutes, a stretch black BMW pulls up to the curb in front of the hotel. The crowd surges forward, squealing and shrieking, 'Anna, Anna, Anna . . .'
The object of their obsession opens the back right door and flashes a shapely calf, only partially covered by tight black capri pants. She steps out of the vehicle, sleek and chic in a lemon-yellow silk jacket, dark-green retro sunglasses, and diamond earrings the size of marbles. Surrounded by three bodyguards, she pushes through the crowd, arms close to her sides. She gets to the top of the stairs leading into the hotel lobby, turns, and, in a truly Big Star moment, ever-so-gracefully waves and smiles to her adoring public.
An explosion of strobes blister the night sky. By dawn, Kournikova’s face will grace the front page of the local paper, El Universo, while the hard drives of millions of Kournikova fans around the world are enriched with yet more images of the 19-year-old sensation, widely recognized as the most photographed and downloaded female athlete in the world. Kournikova enters the hotel, skips the check-in, and maneuvers into an elevator along with her mother and father, Alla and Sergei, and a pile of Louis Vuitton luggage big enough to build a bunker.
Kournikova is in Ecuador for an exhibition match, one in a series of one-night stands she’s playing in South America during the off-season. Though such tours count for nothing in the rankings, they’re lucrative for the top players and help bring the sport to places without official tournaments.
Of course, in Kournikova’s case, sport often takes a back seat to celebrity. Despite finishing the 2000 season with a career-best world singles ranking of No. 8 and winning six doubles titles, Kournikova is better known as the most wanted woman in tennis, an object of desire for the countless hormones-in-sneakers who prowl tournament grounds in baggy shorts and backwards baseball caps in hopes of making off with one of her sweat-laden towels or just catching a glimpse of her up close. What greater hopes they may have are, of course, futile: She has been linked romantically to Russian-born NHL stars Sergei Federov and Pavel Bure, as well as tennis pros Nicolas Lapentti and Mark Philippoussis, yet claims still to be a virgin -- which makes her all the more mesmerizing.
It’s been that way ever since Kournikova, at age 15, qualified and made it to the fourth round of the 1996 U.S. Open, her first Grand Slam. A year later, she became only the second woman in the Open era (after Chris Evert) to reach the semifinals in her Wimbledon debut. In ’98 she beat four Top 10 players in as many days to reach her first career final, in Miami. Three months later, she beat Steffi Graf on grass, something only two others accomplished in the 1990s.
Clearly, Kournikova has game. The question is, can it carry her far enough to quiet those skeptics who consider her a triumph of style over substance? Detractors note that Kournikova, a lithe 5-foot-8 and 123 pounds, has yet to prove she can beat the game’s best players or its biggest hitters. Indeed, she’s winless in five meetings against Venus Williams, and has won only one of her 12 matches against Martina Hingis. But the statistic cited so frequently that even those only casually acquainted with professional tennis are familiar with is this: Despite her talent, Kournikova, in five years on tour, has never won a singles title.
In the hotel elevator, Kournikova teases Micky Lawler, traveling companion and vice president at Octagon, Anna’s management firm. 'Mickey Mouse,' Kournikova calls her, giggling, as she runs a hand through Lawler’s long, dark-brown hair. 'Let me see if you have Mickey ears . . .' The doors slide open to the serenity of the restricted seventh floor, but Kournikova’s long day -- which began at her home in the South Beach section of Miami -- is far from over. Disembarking, she expels a deep, pouty sigh and asks Lawler, 'How much time, Micky?' 'The press are already there, waiting,' Lawler answers. 'Fifteen minutes -- a little more if you need it. . . . I think they’ll wait.'
About 20 minutes later, Kournikova conducts a press conference with 50 journalists and several TV crews. Most of the questions are phrased as fawning accolades, translated into English (Anna’s second language) by a mustachioed dandy who freely embellishes them. But it’s only a matter of time before a reporter asks the inevitable: When will Kournikova finally win her first tournament?
With a carefree laugh and a forced smile, Kournikova replies, 'I don’t want to say when, because then I might jinx myself and not win any more than one.'
Anna at the 2000 French Open.
Rendered so expertly, her response deflects an issue that has caused Kournikova considerable distress. It has less to do with keeping her endorsers happy (including, among others, Adidas shoes and apparel, Yonex racquets, Omega watches, and Berlei sports bras) than with the pride of this world-class athlete. That’s because there’s another Anna Kournikova lodged beneath her celebrated skin. Long before Anna, Queen of the Internet, there was Anna the Jock, an aspiring tennis champion passionate about the game since the age of 5. That Anna remains very much alive.
The facts speak for themselves: Last spring, Kournikova badly tore a left-ankle ligament in Berlin, just 19 days prior to the French Open. Doctors advised her to rest it for a month. Yet two days before Roland Garros began, she was back on the practice court, hitting balls fed directly to her because she couldn’t run at all. Though sore and rusty, she ultimately decided to play the event and won a round before losing a tough three-setter to Sylvia Plischke, leaving her open to the all-too-familiar charges: overrated, a choker.
'I don’t care what anybody said about why I lost,' Kournikova says. 'I entered the French Open because I love to play and I couldn’t stand the idea of missing it. This game isn’t part of my life. This game is my life.'
It’s the winter of 1991 in Moscow. Anna Kournikova, pig-tailed and not yet 10 but already cute as a button, sits wrapped in a wool sweater in her family’s modest, two-room apartment. Beyond the lightly frosted window, the sky is gray and the University district looks dingy. Sergei and Alla are in the other room while their only child sits alone, eating rice and a plate of cold, sliced meat. Her eyes are fixed on a videotape of a 1989 French Open women’s semifinal, which she watches on a small Russian television.
'It was Steffi Graf against Monica Seles, and I was fascinated by that match,' Kournikova says. 'I came to know it by heart. The scores were 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 for Graf. I even know the points by heart. I don’t know how many days I would just eat and watch, sometimes even missing my mouth with the food. I must have watched it a thousand times.'
Anna’s parents didn’t know what to make of her tennis obsession. But as athletes, they were sensitive to it. Sergei was a national-level Greco-Roman wrestler who earned a Ph.D and became a professor at the University of Physical Culture and Sport in Moscow (where he’s still a part-time instructor in martial arts). Alla, a sturdily built blonde two years her husband’s junior, was a 400-meter runner. She had Anna when she was 18 (Sergei was 20).
'We were young, and we liked the clean, physical life,' says Sergei. 'So Anna was in a good environment for sport from the beginning.'
The Kournikovas were alerted to Anna’s tennis aptitude by friends who played the game, though they never expected it to lead anywhere. 'We had no clue about tennis,' Alla says. 'But we took her for lessons, just two or three a week.'
At a glance...
Birthplace: Mosow, Russia
Residence: Miami, Florida, U.S.A.
Grand Slam Record: 39 - 16
Best Gram Slam Singles Results: Wimbledon semi-finals 1997; Australian Open quarterfinals 2001
Career-high Singles Ranking: 8
Career-high Doubles Ranking: 1
2000 Record: 47-29
2000 Prize Money: $984,930
Career Sanex WTA Singles Titles: 0
Career Sanex WTA Doubles Titles: 13
Career Record: 173-93
Career Prize Money: $2,862,501'
Record vs Martina Hingis: 1-11
Record vs Lindsay Davenport: 3-7
Record vs Venus Williams: 0-5
Record vs Monica Seles: 1-4
Record vs Conchita Martinez: 2-3
Before long, Anna was accepted as a junior member at the Spartak Athletic Club, the famed hothouse for Russian athletes. But in economically depressed Russia, in a pro sport dominated by players from Western nations, that guaranteed her little. The outdoor playing season in Moscow is a scant four months, and the going rate at the precious few indoor courts in the city was $50 an hour -- more than the average monthly household income in Russia at the time.
'We were trapped between the old [Communist] system and the new, emerging one,' Sergei says. 'So we had the worst of both. Thank God for your President Bush. He sent our country big boxes of frozen chicken legs. We never had chicken legs before in Moscow. It’s why Anna’s favorite food was chicken with rice.'
Alla recalls that friends who had access to such things gave the Kournikovas videotapes -- Tom and Jerry cartoons, Mary Poppins -- that Alla and Anna watched often enough to know by heart. But from the beginning, Anna’s life was almost entirely about tennis. She incessantly pushed for more playing time, more tennis videos, more of the equipment that was in such short supply.
'I had dolls,' Anna says. 'But I was never really into girly stuff. My favorite toys were my stuffed animals, although I didn’t give them enough of my time. I would just visit with them for maybe five minutes every morning, and then I was running off to find something more active to do. I had too much energy. I was always hanging around with the boys, but just for the reason that they were the ones like me, running around, playing games. Mostly, I just wanted to play tennis for eight hours a day, watch tennis videos, eat, and fall into bed, dead.'
Anna remembers driving around Moscow in the family sedan all day, desperate to find time and competition at indoor courts, chasing rumors that somebody had come across some string or new tennis balls. 'The rule,' Anna says, 'was that you played with the same balls until they had no hair.' Kournikova’s enthusiasm for the game didn’t go unnoticed. At Spartak, she was schooled by Larissa Preobrazhenskaya, the pioneering Russian teaching pro who in 1968 served as the Soviet Union’s first Fed Cup coach. A 5-foot-5 dynamo with short, dyed-blond hair, Preobrazhenskaya, now 71, is still developing youngsters at the club.
'In our first group of children, Anna was the one who didn’t give up at once,' Preobrazhenskaya says. 'Some of the other girls ran and jumped better than she did, but little Anna couldn’t stay in second place. When I saw that, I offered to train her.' Preobrazhenskaya favored an all-court approach and believed that a rigorous work ethic was fundamental to success.
'All the kids loved [Preobrazhenskaya], because her best quality was patience,' says Kournikova. 'She would feed us balls all day and supervise our playing. Really, she was like a second mother to us, and that made us feel very protected. Playing there at Spartak for nine hours a day, I saw more of her than I saw of my real mother.'
'There was no food at Spartak,' Sergei says, 'but Anna wanted to play, not take a break and drive somewhere to find food. So we would take things like hot soup in the thermos bottle and stay at the courts all day.'
But in the end, hot soup and endless practice didn’t suffice. By the time Anna was an internationally recognized prospect of 10, the Kournikovas had decided the only way she’d fulfill her potential was to leave Moscow. Following the blueprint of Seles, the No. 1 player in the world at the time, the Kournikovas took off for the Nick Bollettieri Sports Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where a scholarship, abundant year-round courts, and innumerable practice partners awaited. Bollettieri welcomed the family with open arms, even providing a job for Sergei while he was on leave from his academic post in Moscow. 'He gave us many good advices,' says Alla. 'He helped out a lot.'
Kournikova flourished in Florida, never showing any sign of homesickness or timidity. She slashed her way through the juniors, winning the European Championships, Italian Open, and Orange Bowl 18s in 1995 to finish as the ITF Junior World Champion. By then, news of her talent and charisma had spread like wildfire, and neither she nor her parents nor Bollettieri were inclined to douse the flames.
While covering a charity match at the Colony Resort on Longboat Key that year, I was invited to sit at the head table with the Kournikova clan for the post-event banquet. Anna was introduced to the crowd in the ballroom and, after gleefully auctioning off one of her racquets, she hopped onto the dance floor at the first note from the band and astonished the mostly adult crowd by performing a solo, punkish combination of the pogo and the frug. No child actress could have shown a greater love for the stage.
Yet while Kournikova has always embraced the spotlight wholeheartedly and is at home (literally and figuratively) among the voguish hordes who dominate the South Beach scene, her assumed cultural makeover is illusory. As Phil de Picciotto, president of Octagon, Kournikova’s management company, says: 'Despite her very comfortable place in pop culture, a big part of Anna remains extremely loyal to Russia.'
Bollettieri, though a longtime family friend and advisor, has never been formally identified as Kournikova’s touring coach. Neither Pavel Slozil nor Eric Van Harpen, her former touring coaches, ever won her total confidence the way Preobrazhenskaya did. Kournikova remains so close to her mentor that on return trips to Moscow, the elderly coach is the first person she visits. They still exchange gifts on holidays, still share intimate thoughts while gleefully whacking balls at one another. And Kournikova, who’s now coached jointly by her parents, still solicits Preobrazhenskaya’s advice.
The Coliseo Voltaire Paladines, a roofed stadium with some 7,000 seats, is run by the Guayaquil Sports Federation. But on this night, the music warming up the boisterous sellout crowd is so loud, the joint might as well be hosting a rave.
The pending event is a singles exhibition between Kournikova and Fabiola Zuluaga, a Colombian pro ranked No. 48, followed by a mixed doubles match featuring these same women paired with, respectively, Ecuador’s favorite sons, Lapentti and former French Open champion Andres Gomez.
In the unisex locker room, Kournikova catches Lapentti peering into a mirror. She screams, 'Nico, you’re a boy. You’re not supposed to do that!'
She prattles on, making light of Lapentti’s vanity to Alla and anyone else in the room who’ll listen. Finally, he’s had enough. He grabs her and they twirl around on the cold stone floor like ballroom dancers. The two are just close friends (they met and hit it off at an exhibition in Santiago, Chile, in 1997, and both have homes in Miami), but they understand the importance of playing to the crowd’s fascination with the nature of their relationship. Lest I get the wrong idea, Kournikova grabs my arm and whispers, 'You know, if I kiss Nico out there, it’s just for fun.'
Zuluaga is introduced, but her name vanishes into the backwash of Anna-mania, the fans chanting Kournikova’s name and waving hand-painted signs professing their undying love. The lights go down, and Britney Spears’ 'Oops, I Did It Again' booms from the speakers. Kournikova steps out onto the blue cement court and -- amid flashing lights and cascading cheers punctuated by salacious wolf-whistles -- walks to her chair, waving and smiling.
Kournikova strips down to black shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, against which her single braid of hair gleams like a golden rope. She rummages through her bag, softly sings along to Spears, and smiles at her parents, who sit in the white plastic patio chairs that comprise the VIP seating section. Even in the harsh light, her flawless, tawny skin fairly glows.
Anna at Wimbledon 2000.
While Anna Kournikova’s star power sold most of the tickets, the success of the evening will be determined by the quality of her tennis. Few of the fans have seen Kournikova play in person, and a loss to Zuluaga would disappoint them as surely as Spears showing up for a concert with laryngitis.
Kournikova purses her lips as she prepares to serve. She tosses the ball, begins to swing, and rotates her torso sharply, her arm following. Hers is not the minimalist motion of tennis’ great servers. Rather, she attacks the ball like a cat pouncing on a mouse, her head snapping downward in an attempt to milk every last smidgen of power.
The serve has often been identified as the chief weakness in Kournikova’s game, and some pretty ugly numbers back up the argument. In her first two tournaments of 1999, she served 10 or more double faults five straight times, including an unsightly 31 against Miho Saeki at the Australian Open (a match she somehow won anyway).
Bollettieri says Kournikova never learned to get her weight behind the ball, and thus has evolved into an 'arm-server' who should concentrate on improving her conversion percentage and placement and forget about chasing aces. The book on Kournikova is that attacking her weak second serve is the surest way to beat her.
Kournikova is well aware of her service flaws. 'I’ll never have a serve like Venus Williams, even though I work on specific muscle groups in the gym to get the most power I can,' she says. 'But it’s also important to work within the borders of what is possible and to concentrate on maximizing the natural strengths in my game.
'Really, I feel OK about my serve. It has been most shaky at times when I’m coming back from injury. For some reason, my ground strokes come back quickly, but I have problems with my coordination on the serve.'
Kournikova argues that the inconsistency of her serve, and of her results in general, have less to do with technical glitches, poor concentration, or the tendency to tighten up during pressure situations than they do with one overlooked fact: Despite her athleticism, she’s also injury-prone, and has been sidelined for varying periods each of the last four years. In 1998, shortly after her impressive run to the final in Key Biscayne, she tore ligaments in her right thumb during a quarterfinal win over Graf at Eastbourne, which kept her from following up on her striking debut at Wimbledon. In ’99 she missed 10 weeks, including the U.S. Open, with a stress fracture in her right foot. Last year, the torn ankle ligament limited her movement for two months. And this winter, she was out with yet another stress fracture, this one to her left foot.
Against Zuluaga, a healthy Kournikova displays the quickness, fluidity, and creative shot-making that led her to the semifinals or better nine times in 2000. She breezes to a 6-3, 6-4 victory that delights the crowd. At one point, she comes to the net behind a crosscourt forehand and slices a two-handed backhand volley from her kneecaps for a feathery winner. Even Zuluaga applauds.
Kournikova’s all-court versatility makes her a legitimate contender at the Grand Slam she covets most: Wimbledon. Her net play is solid, her two-handed backhand is reliable, and her forehand consistency has improved. The lapses of discipline that once led her to swat at, rather than hit through, the ball are less frequent now. And on grass, her ability to adjust to low and bad bounces is a rare asset.
Yet opponents have learned to exploit the fact that Kournikova lacks what today’s top players invariably possess: a single preemptive weapon. Good though she may be, how will Kournikova ever be good enough to offset the preternatural court savvy of Hingis, the forehand of Lindsay Davenport, or the raw power of the Williams sisters?
Van Harpen, the Dutch coach who has also worked with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, Conchita Martinez, and Patty Schnyder, knew trouble was brewing on a practice court in Mahwah, N.J., last July. He’d just told Kournikova for the umpteenth time that she was positioning herself too far from the ball.
Stunned, Kournikova threw down her racquet, stared at Van Harpen, and said, seething, 'You always tell me what I do wrong, not what I should do to make it right.'
Van Harpen, whose technical expertise clearly exceeds his people skills, shot back, 'Well, if you’re too far from the ball, the right thing is to be closer, or am I crazy?'
Upon hearing that rejoinder, Kournikova stormed to the sideline and, according to Van Harpen, began screaming something to Alla in Russian. 'I had the feeling at that moment that I couldn’t help her anymore,' Van Harpen says. 'I was at the airport within an hour.' Not long thereafter, Van Harpen unloaded his frustration over the doomed 10-month tutelage in the German magazine Der Spiegel. He accused Kournikova of lacking discipline, behaving like a 'little queen' who cared more about her fame than her results, and ignoring his advice.
Kournikova’s response to the Van Harpen accusations is characteristically muted. 'I’m doing better without him,' she says. 'If I was so bad, why didn’t he try to change anything when he was my coach?'
Van Harpen was in a less bellicose but no less frustrated mood earlier this year after watching Kournikova reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open (where she lost to Davenport), her best Grand Slam in three and a half years. 'I’m not angry or hurt by what she said,' he says. 'I’m angry because now she’s playing like I told her to. When I was there, she wouldn’t do it. Now she’s doing things right.'
Van Harpen says he persuaded Kournikova to use more spin to create a greater margin of error on her ground strokes. He also tried to adjust her service toss ('She had a bad habit of tossing the ball too far forward and trying to hit the kick serve, resulting in a weak slice into the net'). But mostly, he tried convincing her that she could win a Grand Slam and be in the Top 5 if only she’d play more conservatively.
'In a typical match against Hingis,' he says, 'Martina makes 20 winners and 15 unforced errors, while Anna makes 55 winners and 75 mistakes. The answer is not to try to make 70 winners, because that’s impossible. Anna just needs to cut back on her errors, to play with more discipline and patience. She has to realize that you don’t have to play like the Queen of Sheba every time you go on the court. She’s doing that a little more now.'
Preobrazhenskaya has a similar take on what Anna needs to crack the elite ranks: 'She is playing sometimes too pressing, too aggressive a game. Maybe it is because she wants so much to win in big tournaments. She needs a game more variable and stable.'
But Bollettieri insists that cutting down on errors isn’t the answer. He believes her game needs a dramatic makeover.
Looking determined at the 2000 French Open.
'Anna’s a great athlete, and she has an animal instinct for the game that no coach can teach,' he says. 'But as beautifully as she moves, her chances of winning a point against the big hitters decrease with every stroke. The next step is to create a strategy for taking advantage of her versatility by getting to the net more often. She can’t beat Hingis or the Williams sisters with what she has. What Anna really needs is a plan, and that doesn’t come naturally to her.'
Indeed, eschewing rigid strategies is central to Kournikova’s makeup as a player. Her headstrong personality helps to explain her moth-and-flame relationship with the coaches who’ve attempted to tell her what to do, and it may in fact be impeding her progress on the court. This is a young woman who’s wary of any outside opinions, who 'knows what she knows.'
'I’ve learned not to get overexcited and to play more calmly and patiently,' she says, before quickly adding, 'I’ve always had a tendency to go for it too much. But that isn’t all bad. I still feel I have to play aggressive and take risks. Sooner or later, I know it’s going to pay off.'
Room 106 at the Hampton Inn is furnished in contemporary business-traveler: beige couch, beige curtains, beige carpet -- beige everything. Kournikova is sitting in a (what else?) beige armchair fielding one TV interview after another. The fellow now stepping to the plate is from Gamma-Vision, a South American network.
'Is it true that you travel with your own make-up artist?' he asks.
'No,' she replies testily. Kournikova’s right foot inches out of her black platform slip-ons, and her toes tightly grip the top of the shoe.
'What book are you reading?' the reporter asks. 'Just Russian books,' she answers, neglecting to add that the volume currently on her bedside table is War and Peace.
'If you could get a present now, what would you like?'
Kournikova, stunned by the inanity of the question, whirls toward Sergei and Alla, blurting out, 'Can you believe it?'
Her right shoe falls over.
Sergei, who tended the home fires in Moscow for long periods during Anna’s junior days in the U.S., looks at her, puzzled. He says, softly, 'It’s good to have questions not just about sport, but about life also.'
Thus far, Kournikova has managed to manipulate sport and life with a juggler’s ease. But judging where the rubber of Kournikova’s celebrity meets the road of her career is a complex undertaking.
As de Picciotto says, 'Anna has known a fishbowl existence ever since her debut, and that helps because the single most important thing to a focused tennis player is consistency -- whatever the circumstances are. Anna has that. The level of attention is crazy, but it’s the same everywhere. Her parents are always there. She has the personal skills to handle all the media things, and she’s learned how to use her time wisely. Looking at her results, rankings-wise, she’s developing exactly as everyone had hoped she would.'
But others believe that Kournikova’s fame has cost her dearly on the tennis court. 'Anna just doesn’t have the chance to take enough time to train in a quiet way, away from the tournaments, away from all the excitement that goes with the life,' Preobrazhenskaya says.
Kournikova’s high profile also makes her an especially inviting target for opponents, who find beating her to be just as satisfying (and far easier) than beating the Williamses. 'The top players, first of all, are going on the court very angry against Anna,' Van Harpen says. 'They feel they’re underrated because of all the Anna publicity and because Anna quite naturally goes there thinking she’s the most exciting, greatest player on earth. [Her opponents] become much more focused and determined not to lose.'
Moreover, the constant attention that’s been lavished on Kournikova has created a media backlash concerning the gap between her Q rating and her on-court results. Even in the wake of Anna’s strongest performances, the subject of the missing singles title simply won’t go away. At the mere mention of the topic, she turns increasingly stone-faced and defensive.
'I am not losing sleep over this issue,' says Kournikova, who has lost to higher-ranked players in all three finals she’s played through mid-March. 'I also know it has something to do with me being famous so soon. That fame definitely created some pressure, but I felt it more early in my career. The criticism used to bother me and make me more closed. Now it makes me more determined to focus on what I have to do -- how much work I have ahead to reach my full potential.'
Still, the scrutiny and criticism have taught the Kournikovas to distrust outsiders, which helps explain what may prove to be (for better or worse) her career-shaping decision to rely on her parents, neither of whom has any experience in competitive tennis, as co-coaches. At best, the move is a tribute to the Kournikovas’ sense of shared hardship, striving, and self-reliance. At worst, it represents a fundamental denial of Kournikova’s needs as a still-developing player. Granted, Hingis and the Williams sisters have parents who also wear coach’s caps. But all three have already hurdled the Slam-title -- much less tournament-title -- barrier at which Kournikova finds herself stuck.
Early this year, Bollettieri sent Alla Kournikova the following fax: 'I love you, Alla, and I hope you’ll still respect me after I say that you have to find Anna a person, a coach, who can bring along her game. It’s time to say, ‘I’ve taken you as far as I can, and I’m just going to be your mother now.’'
The Kournikovas still respect Bollettieri, still consider him a friend. But Anna, who believes she’ll win a Grand Slam someday, is steadfastly sticking to her plan. 'I’ve had coaches, and it seems like they didn’t really help,' Kournikova says. 'I seem to do better just with my parents. I don’t want to change a system that is working. Besides, it is based on how I was growing up. Those things are important to me. They are my personal history.'
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