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Crazy Canuck
Dec 23rd, 2001, 12:19 AM
I don't THINK anyone has posted this yet:

Smitten with Sex kitten of the Court<br />Source: Sunday Star-Times - Wellington <br />Publication date: 2001-12-16<br />Arrival time: 2001-12-19

She is the great enigma of women's tennis. A player with the looks, the game but no singles title. Andrew Sanders profiles the summer drawcard to New Zealand, Anna Kournikova. <br />--------------------

ANNA KOURNIKOVA'S parents sold their television so they could afford to buy their daughter a Christmas present. The then five-year- old found a tennis racquet under the tree.

In hindsight, it was a defining moment in Kournikova's life. The Russian and her racquets have rarely separated in the intervening years. The gift has spawned one of the great drawcards--although not as yet one of the great players--of women's tennis.

It may also have been the last time Kournikova was beholden to television. Since then the small screen operators--and any other camera lens for that matter--have followed the minx of the courts like panting lapdogs.

As Kournikova has succinctly said: "They are all potty about my botty."

It will be the same Pied Piper performance when she arrives in Auckland after Christmas for New Zealand's biggest women's professional tournament, the ASB Bank Tennis Classic.

Kournikova, with her alluring looks and doll-like figure, is the No 1 cover girl in world sport.

She's a walking, talking adulation package but as yet, the 20- year-old's tennis game falls short of the same sky-high reading on the barometer of the besotted.

She is good--you don't get to No 8 in the world without being talented--but the Florida-based professional has the albatross around her neck of never having won a WTA singles title let alone a grand slam event. That leaves her a decent smash away from her dream of being the best in the world.

Whether her off-court success will ever be matched by on-court triumphs is the litmus test for how the Kournikova career will be defined.

Next year, starting in Auckland, should deliver an insight into whether she will bridge the gap.

Kournikova finished last year with her best ranking of No 8 after also being inside the top 15 players for the previous two years.

But her ranking has slipped to No 71 following an injury-marred 2001 where she played only 10 tournaments.

Her best efforts were quarter-final losses--first to Lindsay Davenport at the Australian Open, then to Amelie Mauresmo at a tourney in Paris and Kim Clijsters in Luxembourg.

The Aussie Open was her only Grand Slam event in 2001. A stress fracture in her left foot, which she injured in February, prevented her playing the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

Kournikova was back competing in July. But the injury was still not right and she required a further break. When she came back, she had to endure the longest losing streak of her career before beating South African Amanda Coetzer at the Seat Open near the end of the WTA season.

Her agent Phil de Picciotto said Kournikova was in a tricky situation.

"Anna had a big injury and she had a choice. She could delay her comeback until next year or return to playing with no expectations after being out of the game so long," he said.

Kournikova may not have played much tennis on the circuit but she has been playing plenty since it wound up for the year. She should be one of the better prepared professionals at the ASB Classic which is the first tournament of the New Year.

In South Africa, she played a three-match exhibition series against Coetzer and there have also been other match-ups against childhood hero Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati.

Auckland provides Kournikova with an excellent chance of burying the annoying statistic of never having won a WTA singles title--the doughnut which eats at her insides.

It is a tier IV event and it should prove easier than the tier I and tier II tournaments Kournikova normally plays.

There are no world class powerhouses such as Davenport, the Williams sisters Venus and Serena, Martina Hingis or Clijsters in the draw.

The tennis world's take on Kournikova is divided.

There are those who regard her as a talent. Others suggest she is overrated and are even bitter at all the attention she receives.

Living legends Billie Jean King and Chris Evert are believers.

"Anna is the real thing," says 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."

Evert thinks Kournikova is good for tennis.

"She's a gorgeous young woman who's very fit and works hard at her profession," she says.

Among her peers, there is a degree of angst.

They see a player ranked many places below them who plays her matches on centre court and who gets an incredible amount of attention when she doesn't have a top-tier track record.

Tournament organisers, as a result of Kournikova's popularity, must schedule her on the major courts at venues to accommodate the crowds who want to see the beauty.

Patty Schnyder describes the Russian as an arrogant diva while Davenport, in an honest appraisal, says Kournikova has more spectators "at her training than me at a match".

Perhaps one of the most intriguing insights is provided by legendary coach Nick Bollettieri.

Kournikova was a Bolliettieri protege from the ages of 10 to 15.

On one hand Bollettieri says: "Anna is a shotmaker. She has the ability to create situations on the court that very few people can create. And at the net she's brilliant. She hits volleys from all angles. The only person I could compare her to is John McEnroe."

But he adds: "Anna's too lazy, she will never become a big player."

Kournikova says she keeps aiming high.

"I know I can achieve a great deal more than I have," she says. "I can feel it in my bones. I know exactly what I can do. Don't forget it took Steffi Graf four years to win her first title."

Pam Shriver, the former top professional and one of the most respected people in women's tennis, also believes age is a big factor and she says Kournikova's career may yet parallel that of Martina Navratilova.

"Martina was the greatest player I ever saw," she says. "But she didn't win her first major--Wimbledon--until she was 21. It took her time to mature, to overcome her insecurities. Martina was sport's most talked about lesbian. Anna is sport's most talked about beauty queen. Call it the flip sides of the Marilyn Monroe syndrome, which leaves both more vulnerable than you would imagine. Anna has the game, powerful strokes, a hard serve and athleticism. She can be mentally tough. She served 31 double faults in the second round of the Australian Open last year and rallied to win. She's a pro and she puts in the work.

"So what does she have to do? The world's most looked at athlete has to look inside. No more crutches, no more gazing up for advice from her mother or coach, no more constantly questioning calls. She can spit out winners or double faults. That has to change. And the ball is in her court."

The fans and the corporates don't seem to mind which Kournikova turns up on a given day.

At the Australian Open, one banner reads: "And the on 7th day, God created Anna K." Then there were the "Marry me, Anna" banners. The problem is one was held up by 10 young hopefuls and Kournikova asked which one she was supposed to go for.

There was also the Ocker larrikin who held up a sign wanting Kournikova to call him on a certain number.

"Both me and my phone will be turned on," he announced.

Kournikova fever has fuelled 17,400 dedicated websites and on the downside an aggressive computer virus.

The value of Kournikova Inc is highlighted by Forbes magazine.

Kournikova's annual earnings are estimated at $36.5 million. That's a mark surpassed only by Hingis and Andre Agassi in the world of tennis. In Forbes' celebrity rich list, Kournikova is ranked No 73, one spot behind Hingis. Agassi is No 55.

On the celebrity power list, the Russian outranks Hingis and is only 11 positions adrift of Agassi's 43rd position.

Whereas Agassi and Hingis bank a lot of prizemoney, it is estimated 90% of Kournikova's income is derived from huge corporate sponsors. She earned $584,307 in prizemoney this year. Her winnings for last year totalled $924,930. That means a lot of advertisements and deals provide the balance of her huge income.

Adidas, alone, is believed to pay more than $12 million a year into her Miami bank account and it helps pay the mortgage on her penthouse in Portofina Tower on Miami Beach.

The conglomerates are smitten game, set and match while Kournikova appears to alternate between liking the attention and finding it a pain to her most appreciated nether region.

"It's not my fault, the way I look," she said.

"Yes, it's nice to have some of the attention I have, but I want to be known first and foremost as a great tennis player.

"People form their opinions by seeing me on magazine covers and reading about me. I read about me too, and sometimes I appear as if I've come from another planet, or I'm learning about a twin sister.

"But they don't see me practising and training six hours a day. They don't see me after I have lost a match--when if I've lost a match, I'm seriously bad news for at least an hour."

And on being regarded a sex goddess?

"I am no sex symbol and don't want to be such. If some unhealthy interest around my name is being fanned this is simply being done by unscrupulous people."

And not just her rear judging by her many advertising contracts.

Yet this is the woman who models a new sports bra beside the payline: "Only the ball should bounce."

Despite her protestations, it's not a bad lot for the saucy one who lived in a lower-class Moscow suburb and who once played tennis with holes in her shoes.

At her side for much of the journey from a Moscow flat to the the most expensive hotels in the world has been mother Alla.

Regarded as manipulative, the older Kournikova, who has also been mistaken as Anna's sister, is also given much of the credit for her financial success.

Mother and father Sergei, who works for the Russian physical culture ministry, have seen their daughter become the youngest player to win a Federation Cup match, win 13 doubles titles and beat most of the top players in the world at singles.

Her progress and results are watched, crunched and analysed all over the world.

If she was to win in Auckland, the focus of the sports world would temporarily switch to New Zealand.

It's like 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek says: "I hate women's tennis. But I could watch Anna for two hours even playing shuttlecock."

--------------------

Publication date: 2001-12-16<br />© 2001, YellowBrix, Inc.

NejedlyKanepi
Dec 23rd, 2001, 12:44 AM
ill read it....now

the cat
Dec 23rd, 2001, 12:47 AM
Interesting article. Thanks for posting it, Becca. I have already read most of the articles quotes. Some from a couple of years ago. But I had never heard Nick Bollettieri call Anna "lazy". Anna is known to be one of the hardest workers in women's tennis. So I don't get the "lazy" tag. Unless it's a misquote. Besides, Bollettieri is always positive about Anna. I've never heard him say anything negative about Anna. Other than she was a pushy and demanding kid when she trained at Bollettieri's. Anyway, New Zealand is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Anna. And I'm looking forward to the 2002 tennis season. Udachi Anna!

Crazy Canuck
Dec 23rd, 2001, 12:52 AM
cat in the hat: I also found the Bolleteri quote to be out of sorts with anything else I'd read of his opinion on Anna.

He has always been full of praise, so I found the lst bit of his quote to be a little off.

Perhaps it wa sa misquote? I don't actually know for sure, but it does contradict everything else I hear about Anna.

NejedlyKanepi
Dec 23rd, 2001, 12:55 AM
i wondered about that as well.

overall its a good article, some of those signs i had never heard of, theyre funny. "me and my phone will be turned on!" hehehe. she has to laugh to herself to see things about that

im very proud of her for being so strong, always playing under teh harshest criticism and everything. and she sticks with it, thats vey very admirable.

people are like yeah she sucks, but this article says it well. you dont get to #8 on nothing.

it was just a good article, i liked reading it.<br /> <br />ok, im done with this. bye <img src="graemlins/wavey.gif" border="0" alt="[Wavey]" />

Williams Rulez
Dec 23rd, 2001, 01:42 AM
This is a great article. I hope she wins a title soon. Though Anna may be a great player, I somehow find it difficult to imagine her achieving things that Navratilova or Steffi did.

NejedlyKanepi
Dec 23rd, 2001, 01:45 AM
likewise, but what a generous comparison <img src="wink.gif" border="0">

TheBoiledEgg
Dec 23rd, 2001, 09:33 AM
thanx for the article Becca <img src="smile.gif" border="0">

saki
Dec 23rd, 2001, 10:32 AM
Nice, well-ballanced article.

I think that the lazy quote might have been about her style of play rather than her training? I.e. maybe he (like everyone else!) wishes she would take the time to set up points rather than go for winners all the time.

Brian Stewart
Dec 23rd, 2001, 03:22 PM
A pretty good article. Thanks, Becca!

I think SK hit on a key point. As the article mentions, Anna is a shotmaker. But she tends to hit shots, not play points. When she gets better at actually constructing points within the framework of a gameplan, she'll improve her results dramatically.