Steve Hummer http://www.ajc.com/sports/content/sports/columns/hummer/index.html
Sea Island -- Members of the Glynn Academy high school tennis team made the crossing from Brunswick just in time Wednesday. Front-row-center bleacher seats to a fantasy were theirs for the taking.
Odd, only the male members of the team were lined up down front, so close they could dig their sandaled toes into the same green clay that Anna Kournikova -- the face that launched a thousand Web sites -- would make her stage.
Sixteen-year-old Scott Risi has a poster of Kournikova hanging on his bedroom wall over on St. Simons Island. But this was going to be way better.
"We're here to check out her strokes," Risi said with a sly smile.
"Yeah, we're definitely here because of her skill level," agreed a friend, Bill Morgan, practicing his own smirk for later adult use.
Then, through a break in the fence at Court 12 of the Cloister Tennis Center, Kournikova appeared, announced on the front row with that timeless command: "Dude, take the picture!"
Kournikova seldom has done much to bring out the tennis purist in anyone, just as she has remarkably little trouble luring out the adolescent that hides in the male of all ages. Here was a show that may have been a little tame for Mike Price, but he probably would have gotten something out of it nonetheless.
Down in the minors for a rehab assignment, in essence, Kournikova is playing in something called the Cloister Cup, a USTA Pro Circuit event. First place pays $3,000. The bleachers on the "main" court accommodate only 400 spectators. Admission is limited to guests of the Cloisters Hotel and members of the tennis club.
Not exactly a stroll down the glamorous runway of big-time women's tennis.
"It's still a little circus. We can't go anyplace without that," Kournikova said in that diva way of hers.
And if she missed the bright lights and adoring masses, Kournikova did not betray it. "This is fun. I love the place. This is exactly what I need right now," she said.
No. 1 in the hearts of oglers, No. 67 in the world rankings, Kournikova is recovering from a leg injury suffered last month in Charleston, S.C. She explained she didn't want to go play with the big girls in Europe because she needed match experience and wanted to be closer to home should the injury require further treatment.
Thus did the big star come to the little island. This ain't Monte Carlo, but her playing status is such that Kournikova is only the No. 2 seed in this humble event, with no guarantee of making it through to Sunday's final.
"This is what it's going to take for me," she said, putting on her serious tennis face. "I want to get in as many matches as I can get. If not, I'll go back to practice and work hard."
The tennis Wednesday was ordinary. It would have been much easier for Kournikova to be at a photo shoot than to be across the net from the world's No. 258th-ranked player, 20-year-old Marie Fernanda Alves of Brazil. It took her nearly 2 1/2 hours to outlast Alves 4-6, 6-4, 3-0 (retired because of leg cramps) in their first-round match.
"These girls are so hungry. They are going to fight for every point. They have nothing to lose," said Kournikova, whose rust showed even through the zinc oxide she wore like war paint.
The Kournikova-ness, however, was high. The many facets of a personality much larger than a talent were on full display.
There was the pouty Kournikova. The distracted Kournikova. The determined Kournikova, toughing out a key four-deuce ninth game in the second set to go up 5-4. Even the dirty Kournikova, who in the heat of contest wondered out loud why she couldn't get "one bleeping call, that's all."
She brought it all with her to the fringes of professional tennis, along with a nice little blue outfit that refused to quite cover her midriff. If her belly button wanted to come out and play, who were we to argue?
The Kournikova Comeback must be staged on many fronts. There's this tennis thing, which has yet to produce a meaningful professional singles title. That may never be complete. Then, there's this shocker: In a recent ESPN poll, Kournikova was upset by former Arizona softball pitcher Jennie Finch for the politically incorrect title of "Hottest Female Athlete."
"You're kidding. I can't believe that. They must have been crazy," said young Mr. Risi, holding fast to a vision made flesh this day.
May 9th, 2003, 07:27 PM
Hey, have you seen Anna?
By Jeff Merron http://espn.go.com/page2/s/merron/030509.html
Page 2 staff
Editor's Note: With tennis temptress Anna Kournikova scheduled to play a minor-league tournament this week in Sea Island, Ga., Page 2 gave Jeff Merron the assignment of a lifetime: Hit the road and cover Anna's every move. Here is Part 2 of Merron's quest to catch a glimpse of the world's most famous model/tennis player. If you weren't here Thursday, you missed Part 1.
Practice makes perfect -- even if it's only for $3,000.
SEA ISLAND, Ga. -- When you wake up in the morning at a beach hotel called the "King and Prince" (no, it's not male-only, Martha), knowing that you must -- must -- find one of the most famous people on the planet and talk to her, all in a few hours, it's kind of scary.
I had no clue how I would meet Anna K on Thursday at the Cloister Cup, or interview her, as my editors requested. I figured I'd believe what I'd read -- aloof. I figured she'd be overwhelmed with press and paparazzi, surrounded by an entourage, impossible to get near.
I was wrong. Wrong about Anna (she seems like a nice person to me). Wrong about finding her (she walked right into the pro shop, like normal players do). Wrong about the press and paparazzi. I was the only 'press,' at least at 9 in the morning. Wrong about just about everything else.
Anna was at the Cloister Cup, a small, USTA Women's Professional Circuit Event with a total purse of only $25,000, to recover from an abductor injury and to ready herself for the French Open, which begins June 2. Like the French Open, the Cloister Cup is also played on clay. And after a month off, she told The Associated Press, she was in Sea Island because, "I need to play as many matches as I can."
This was a small boon for Sea Island, a posh, pricey resort that includes three golf courses, including two that Golf Digest ranks among the top 100 in America. Sea Island has hosted (and will host again this year) the UBS Warburg Cup, a $3 million Ryder Cup-like event sanctioned by the European Seniors Tour.
"We've been getting a lot of attention for this event," says Dickie Anderson, the tennis director at Sea Island.
"Because of Anna?"
Elise seems to be a better person for meeting Anna. Who wouldn't be?
"We've had a lot of media because of Anna," he says, "but we also have three top-100 players this year."
I'd run into Dickie many times during the day, and we often stopped to chat. Early, when I asked where Anna would be playing her second-round match, he said, "Court 12. That's our 'Stadium Court.' It has some bleachers and seats about 400."
He seems kind of apologetic, and also proud of the tourney's relative success. "Maybe they'll start taking us more seriously now," he says.
I talk to Dickie again. I'm brainstorming ways to at least get some evidence that I've been in the same general vicinity of Anna.
"Can you get me a used practice ball?"
"Sure, I think I can do that."
"Or a sweaty towel."
"Or a pillowcase."
"I don't think that will be possible."
"But," Dickie says, "one guy who was here yesterday -- she spit out her gum, and one guy almost dove into the garbage can to get it. But he didn't, even though his friend said, 'That could be worth $25,000 on eBay, dude!'"
I stand outside the pro shop, waiting. Next thing I know, Harold and Anna walk by, quickly, on their way to the practice court.
I follow. They put their equipment and tennis balls and bottled water down on a glass patio table beside the court.
I stand there and look at Anna. She's wearing a blue T-shirt and mid-calf warm-ups. She's bigger than I thought she'd be. Her legs look strong.
I'm not stunned by her beauty. Anna is pretty -- very pretty. But that's it. I've seen three or four players already this morning who I'd also put in the "very pretty" category. Maybe I'm jaded, but I don't think so. It isn't like I hang out at the Playboy Mansion or chic Manhattan clubs or anything.
Later on, I give this some thought. I had read the comments some high school spectators made the day before, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We're here to check out her strokes," one kid said. Words uttered, according to the AJC, "with a sly smile."
Anna Kournikova: nice, engaging, intelligent, laid back? You better believe it.
The leering, the comments, the expectations of drop-dead gorgeous -- is this the way we think we're supposed to react to Anna? Maybe.
Also, I'm sure, it's because Anna, whose image has been captured by some of the world's best photographers, simply looks stunning under a good camera's gaze.
The folks in the pro shop are wonderful. I tell them I've met Anna. They introduce me to Gogo, who designed the trophies for the winners -- including a $1,050 necklace made out of rattlesnake vertebrae.
Gogo is pretty interesting herself.
She lives on Cumberland Island half the year, and on Martha's Vineyard the other half.
She's sold jewelry to the Clintons. Bill is nice, she says. Chelsea wears her jewelry, she adds.
She arranged the wedding of John Kennedy, Jr. (an old friend of hers), and Carolyn Bessette, which took place on nearby Cumberland Island. She also designed the couple's wedding rings. "My plane landed on Martha's Vineyard 10 minutes before his went down," she adds.
When you have Carnegie money, you can pretty much pick any profession.
I ask her her last name.
"She's one of those one-name people," says one of the girls who sells Gogo's stuff at a table. "Just Gogo."
Her name is Gogo Ferguson.
"I don't know how I got that name. Maybe it's the first thing I said or something. But it wasn't from being a Go-Go dancer in the 1970s or 80s."
Gogo is the tourney's sponsor. I dismiss this as a nod to her creation and donation of the expensive winner's trophies, until I look her name up later on the Internet. Turns out she's the great-granddaughter of Thomas Carnegie, Andrew's younger brother. That's old steel money of Gates-like magnitude.
Forget Anna, Rosa is the one breaking hearts.
I've already seen Anna practice. I've talked to her. I've taken her picture. I expected she'd be playing by noon or one. But it's 2 p.m., a long drive home, a deadline awaits, and her second-round match against Gabriela Volekova is at least an hour off. Anna is just sitting behind me, in the 'Hospitality Area' for the players, waiting to log on to a computer set up for the competitors. I'm just about to offer her my laptop -- hey, why not? -- when she puts on her headphones and walks out the door.
I'm sitting next to her while she surfs the web. She's still got her headphones on, and is singing along. Totally unselfconscious. Having fun.
She logs on to the official Enrique Iglesias Web site.
She's in the community area.
I am not making this up.
I am spying on Anna surfing the web.
I have sunk pretty low.
Anna made quick work of her Round 2 opponent.
She's singing in Spanish. All I can catch is 'Como estas.'
Fifteen minutes later, she's still surfing the web.
There's something comforting about it. Anna surfs the web to kill time. Just like the rest of us. Weird. Until yesterday, as far as I knew, she existed only on the Web. But she's real. And I know this because I see her surfing the Web.
Now I'm way too deep into philosophical thought. It all seems cosmically impossible.
Later, she laughs again. She's reading Steve Hummer's Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about her first round match. She reads out loud to me, "'There was the pouty Kournikova. The distracted Kournikova. The determined Kournikova ... ' Can you believe this? They have such imagination."
"Does it bother you?"
"No, I'm on the front page. But I just can't believe how they can write this. I wish I had such imagination."
She reads on. 'She brought it all with her to the fringes of professional tennis, along with a nice little blue outfit that refused to quite cover her midriff. If her belly button wanted to come out and play, who were we to argue?'
She laughs. "How do they come up with this?"
Perhaps Mr. Hummer, a fine writer, got some inspiration from "The Eugene O'Neill Oak," which is right near the courts. O'Neill, the oak's placard says, wrote "A Touch of the Poet" here on Sea Island.
Jeff Merron tries to bring home a souvenir of his trip to Sea Island.
Just before I leave, I catch Anna finally playing her second-round match. There's a scattering of spectators, maybe 100 or so. She looks good -- fully focused on the match, concentrating in a way that's in sharp contrast to the young woman who was casually singing and web surfing a few hours ago.
Kournikova beats Volekova easily, 6-0, 6-2. The match takes only an hour. Tomorrow (Friday) she'll be up against fifth-seeded Sunitha Rao in the quarterfinals.
But I won't be there. Real life calls, and I have no choice but to answer.
Goodbye, Sea Island.
And thanks, Anna. It's sappy for a Page 2 guy to write, but the world seems like a better place to me, right now. And it's because of you.
(And Rosa, too.)
May 9th, 2003, 07:32 PM
Kournikova Commits To Playing Charlottesville Challenger
By Richard Pagliaro (From Tennisweek.com)
Anna Kournikova continues to rise to the Challenger level. The 1997 Wimbledon semifinalist — who has advanced to the quarterfinals of the Cloisters Cup, in Sea Pines, Georgia — will continue competing on the Challenger circuit when she plays the Boyd Tinsley $25,000 USTA Women’s Tennis Championships at The Boar’s Head Sports Club in Charlottesville, Virginia next week.
Yesterday, the second-seeded Kournikova crushed Gabriela Volekova, 6-0, 6-2 at the Cloisters Cup.
The 72nd-ranked Kournikova, who is still seeking her first WTA Tour tournament title, is trying to refine her game and rebuild her confidence on the Challenger circuit, commonly known as tennis' minor leagues. Amy Frazier is the top seed at the Cloisters Cup.
Regardless of her performance in Sea Pines this week, Kournikova has committed to competing in Charlottesville next week.
Charlottesville native Boyd Tinsley — known by millions of fans as a founding member and violin player in the Dave Matthews Band — is turning his touch to tennis. An avid tennis player and fan, Tinsley has banded together with The Boar’s Head Sports Club and the United States Tennis Association to serve as the title sponsor for a USTA women’s tennis championship.
USTA players begin arriving for matches at Boar’s Head Sports Club on May 10th, with qualifying matches set for Sunday, May 11th and Monday, May 12th. A complete and updated schedule will be available after 4 p.m. on May 12th at USTA Pro Circuit.
For more information or to make room reservations at the Boar's Head Inn, please visit Boars Head Inn or call (800) 476-1988. Admission to the tournament is sponsored by Tinsley and he plans to be there for the final to hand out the champion's check, which could produce a momentous meeting between Tinsley and noted music fan Kournikova should the Internet Icon take the title.
"I'm definitely going to be there," Tinsley told Tennis Week. "I won't be there the entire week, but I will be there for the first night and for the final to present the award at the end of the tournament and I'll also be there for a youth tennis clinic put on by some of the young ladies playing in the tournament."