Return to centre: Anna Kournikova is on course for a comeback at Wimbledon
By Benji Wilson
Last updated at 8:02 PM on 19th June 2010
As a prodigiously talented teenager, Anna Kournikova Ė all long legs, beaming smile and blonde hair Ė changed the image of womenís tennis. But although she attracted worldwide attention, back problems put paid to her centre-court career after less than a decade. Now 28 and living in Miami with her boyfriend, singer Enrique Iglesias, Anna is back in the UK to play in the Wimbledon Legends tournament. Benji Wilson joins her for a knock-up
'It's funny, sometimes I feel like it didn't even happen to me and then at the same time it's like, "Wow! I lived through that,"' says Anna
Youíre back at Wimbledon after all these years Ė you must be thrilled.
Iím really looking forward to it. I havenít been to Wimbledon since 2002, and probably my best memories are from there. Just the atmosphere and the traditions make it a totally special experience. Even the air is different! Right now Iím trying to take care of my health and look after my back Ė since I started practising harder for playing Wimbledon again itís been bothering me a bit.
So youíre still competitive with a racquet in your hand?
Absolutely. Whether exercising or running or whatever, I like to compete. Itís healthy competition, of course Ė I donít like the cut-throat stuff. But when itís on, itís on.
How do you feel looking back at your career as a pro now?
Itís funny, sometimes I feel like it didnít even happen to me and then at the same time itís like, ĎWow! I lived through that.í I was so young. My only regret is that I wasnít able to handle my health issues better. I was very injury-prone Ė Iím not a big girl, my body wasnít really built for sport. Twenty years of sport and exercise, six hours a day Ė imagine what that has done to my bones.
All that sport Ė do you feel youíve missed out on being an average teenage girl?
Yes and no. You grow up so much faster Ė youíre much more worldly in certain things. At 15 Iíd been to every continent, but at 20 I hadnít been to college. I missed out on lots of school experiences, the things that normal teenagers do every day.
Some would argue it was worth it. What do you consider your greatest achievement in tennis?
For me it was always that personal satisfaction after each match. Whether I beat Steffi Graf or Martina Hingis or a player who was ranked 200 in the world, it didnít matter, it was about how well Iíd done in that game. Overall, Iím really satisfied with my career Ė I came from the Soviet Union when it was still very closed off and not many athletes got to go round the world.
Anna makes her Wimbledon Centre Court debut in 1997, aged 16; with boyfriend Enrique Iglesias
And you became famous not just because of your tennis but also because of your looks. Did it hurt when people said you were just a pretty face?
Of course. Iím a human being and sometimes it bothered me. But you develop a thick skin. True tennis fans know what I achieved [world number-eight ranking], and I know in my heart that I worked my ass off! If Iíd been ranked 100 in the world I donít think people wouldíve been talking about how I looked because there are a lot of pretty girls in tennis. But people donít talk about them if theyíre not in the top ten.
Youíd been playing tennis since you could walk, so it must have been frustrating being forced into retirement.
First of all, it was very scary to walk away. When I stopped in 2003 I was 22, and when youíve been playing tennis from five years old, consumed by one thing, thatís your life. It took me a little while to find myself, grow up, get adjusted.
What was the upside? What was the best bit about your new-found freedom?
I could stay up until midnight! Iím not talking about club-hopping or anything, just knowing that I didnít have to go to bed by ten because I didnít have to get up at 7am to practise. And I could eat what I really liked to eat Ė not just pasta as fuel for your body so you can perform better.
Who do you admire most in the womenís game at the moment?
Obviously, the Williams girls, who have been able to sustain their careers over the long term. Theyíve been very smart. People have criticised them for not playing the full tour schedule, but you know what? Theyíre still playing professionally at 28 and 30 so they must have been doing something right. That they can still play at this age is great Ė my body just wasnít able to sustain that. I think I played a little too much sometimes. I might have had a much longer career if Iíd done what they have.
But we canít imagine youíre Miss Laid-back and Lazy now?
Well, no, I was brought up in a kind of military, disciplined environment. I like that Ė Iím very regimented. Iím a bit OCD, a bit of a perfectionist. I still put too much pressure on myself, it gives me a little bit of anxiety. Even when Iím cooking a meal it has to look amazing. My friends and family go, ĎItís OK, relax! Itís not the end of the world!í Iím like, ĎNo! It has to be a certain way.í Sometimes I just have to let things go.
Does that go for your clothes Ė do you spend hours getting it right?
Not really. I donít like to spend a lot of time thinking about what to wear Ė I always go for simplicity. If something works it works. If I like my black jeans Iíll wear them to death. I donít like trendy things very much Ė thereís a reason why classics are classics.
But youíre lucky to have the physique to carry the simple things off Ė nothing to hide!
Well, I work hard. I still love working out, sweating and being in the gym. I work out for a couple of hours every day. For me itís one of the most important things Ė itís my time, I zone out. I also eat wellÖmost of the time Ė you canít deprive yourself too much! I love crisps, pizza, chocolate Ė in fact, pretty much any kind of splurgy food.
And if you had to pick your last meal?
It would be chicken wings and a burger.
So letís talk boys. Tell us about Enrique.
Heís an incredible person. Very sweet, very kind, and heís got a great sense of humour.
What language do you speak in to one another? Letís face it, there are are several optionsÖ
Ha ha! We speak English. My Spanish is OK, not great. His Russian is pretty good. My grandmother, who splits her time between the States and Russia, has taught him a few things. I think she and my boyfriend are in love with each other, actually! They communicate by just looking at each other and making hand signals because she doesnít speak a word of English. Itís hilarious watching them. Iím basically the translator a lot of the time.
Both you and Enrique are international sex symbols Ė how do you cope with the attention you must get from fans?
Itís very normal to us. The more fans he has, the more proud and happy I am for him because he loves performing for his fans. At the end of the day, you have to trust the people youíre with Ė if thereís no trust then why be with them?
ĎYou develop a thick skin. True tennis fans know what I achieved, and I know in my heart that I worked my ass off!í
People are always talking about you two getting married. Do you ever think about tying the knot just to shut them all up?
For me marriage has never been the most important thing. I do believe in the institution but I wasnít one of those little girls who dreamed about a big goofy dress.
I would love to have a family but Iím only 28. And Iím so glad I havenít had children yet because every year I feel as if Iím growing up myself. Once Iím ready, Iíll be able to give children much more than I couldíve when I was younger. I still have plenty of time.
Whatís your beauty secret?
Sleep! I know itís boring but, honestly, for my brain, for beauty, for just feeling good, the most important thing is sleep. I donít care if I go to sleep at three in the morning and wake up at noon or if itís 9pm to 6am. As long as I get at least eight hours then I can live the day to the fullest. Thereís no magic potion, you just have to get enough sleep, do enough exercise and eat right.
So if we were to raid your handbag we wouldnít find any Touche Eclat?
Oh yes you would! I love my Touche Eclat. Though at home in Florida itís too hot for make-up. I only wear it for going out to dinner or public events, when if I didnít have any
on people would get scared!
Dinners out, lots of beauty sleep and EnriqueÖ life seems wonderful right now. Can you imagine a life without tennis, or will you be playing when you are 80?
Tennis is still one of the biggest parts of my life and Iím very much involved in the game. I play the World Team Tennis League in the States right after Wimbledon, and all year round I play tennis exhibitions and charity matches. Charity is so important to me Ė Iíve worked with Population Services International, Boys & Girls Club, and USO, which provides support to military personnel. Itís so important to me to give something backÖand, sure, to keep up the tennis for as long as I possibly can too!
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