Old Anna-article. Nice read!
THE ANNAMANIACS : ARTICLE SPORTS ILLUST.
At 16, that's what Russian phenom Anna Kournikova has in addition to talent, sex appeal and a 'good friend' with a Stanley Cup ring...
By Michael Silver
Clad in an airtight black pants ensemble that only a snake or a super hero could love, Anna Kournikova, the 16-year-old Russian tennis phenom, reclines in a stretch limousine and brushes her blonde hair from head to waist. She flashes a precocious smile and asks you to hold her nail polish while she digs into her purse for a piece of bubble gum.
Kournikova, the teen sex pot with a romantic link to a 28-year-old hockey star, appears to be flirting with you. And despite the fact that you are a happily married man who's twice Kournikova's age--and that her mother, Alla, who's sitting next to her, could have been your high school doubles partner--you appear to be flirting back. What better time to ask about the attention she has received for her appearance, which has lured legions of ogling male to her matches and inspired scores of Web sites on the Internet? Although Kournikova reached the Wimbledon semifinals last year, is ranked 25th in the world and is regarded as a potential superstar, she's known primarily for her pretty face, curvaceous body and frequently revealing
clothes. "It's human nature for people to notice," she says."If I had plastic surgery to make me look worse, maybe that would help. People ask me, 'why do you have to look good on the court? Why not just play?' But to me, whenever I'm on the court, it's like theater, and I have to express myself. Why should I have to look ugly just because I'm an athlete?"
Not since the retirement of Argentina's Gabriella Sabatani in October 1996 has a tennis player been such a sex symbol. But what sets Kournikova apart from Sabatini, whose looks prompted the Great American Doll Company to launch a line of dolls in her likeness, is the enthusism with which she has embraced the role. Sitting back in the limo, Kournikova gleefully recounts the reception she received at the Australian Open in January: "One guy held up a sign that said,'Anna, call me at so-and-so. Both me and my phone will be turned on.' "Its hard to tell which persona Kournikova relishes more, that of provocateur or that of
"Anna knows everything, and what she doesn't know, she thinks she knows," says Nick Bollettieri, who accepted Kournikova at his tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla., when she was 10 and still advises her." From the moment she arrrived here, she knew who she was and wanted everybody else to know who she was,"
At the academy Kournikova befriended a 13-year old German boy named Tommy Haas. "She early on she was good-looking and good on the court,"recalls Haas, who turns 20 next week and is a rising star on the men's tour. "She was mostly stuck-up and treated people not so well. She knew she could get away with it."
There's and attitude , and there's Anna-tude, and the latter knows no bounds. Of meeting the Spice Girls in Australia,Kournikova shrugs and says,"It was a big deal for everyone but not for me" When asked about the pronunciation of her name- Chris Evert and other TV tennis analysts refer to her as AHN-ya---Kournikova says dismissively, "No, it's AH-na. That's just people trying to be cool and pretend they know Russian. As if!"
Kournikova can be whimsical and girlish, quoting lines from the move Clueless and reveling in the excitement that surrounds her, but it's advisable not to treat her like a beer commercial babe. When one of the many whiplash candidates who passes Kournikova at a crowded Southern California concert venue offers a panting hello, she answers," Good-bye." Later she says playfully,"It's like a menu: They can look, but they can't afford it."
One suitor for whom that doesn't apply is her compatriot Sergei Fedorov, the Detroit Red Wings' star center, who recently signed a $38 million contract. He has accompanied Kournikova in public on numerous occasions, sometimes carrying her tennisgear and, some bystanders say, catering to her every whim. Kournikova does nothing to thwart the impression that she's in control. Asked by on young make in a Red wings hat, "Are you his girl-friend?" Kournikova glares and answers, "He wishes."
Kournikova views herself as less prima donna that pre-madonna. She's great fan of the pop chameleon,
whose first album was released around the time of Kournikova's second birthday. "I admire Madonna
as an artist," Kournikova says. "It's unbelievable how she's always changing and stay's in the spotlight.
She's not a hit for one day. She will be around for a long time."
It's early March, two days before Kournikova's first match in the Evert Cup tournament in Indian Wells,
Calif., and Anna and Alla are dressed identically, in tight Adidas workout gear. They giggle as they recount
having been recognized by an airline employee in Miami the previous day and upgraded to first class for the flight to LA. Anna is asked if her mother accompanies her everywhere, and she smiles at Alla and nods. Then she turns away from her mother, whose english is spotty, and says,"But it's not what you think. I do what I want."
Kournikova is one of a quintet of talented teenagers that has energized the women's tour. The others are No. 1-ranked Martina Hingis: No. 11 Venus Williams and her sister, Serena, No. 40; and No. 46 Mirjana Lucic. "I think Anna can hang with any of them," says Bollettieri. "Anna is a shotmaker. She has the ability to create situations on the court that very few people cancreate. And at the net she's brilliant. She hits volleys from all angles. The only person I could compare her to is John McEnroe."
Says Billie Jean King, "The only question with Anna is, How badly does she want it? Does she want to make the most money, like Sabatini did, or does she want to be Number 1?" Like Sabatini, Kournikova is a hot endorsement property; she has lucrative deals with Adidas, Yonex and Rolex, among other companies.
"Anna can become a superstar of unbelievable magnitude," says Charlie Pasarell, the top-ranked male player in the US in 1967, Who's director of the Indian Wells tournament. "You can tell she's special just by looking at her. She walks like a champion,"
Obviously people are looking at more than the 5'8", 123-pound Kournikova's walk. During her run at Wimbledon last year, which included a victory over French Open champion Iva Majoli, British tabloids had a field with her. " They ran all those photos of my butt," she says. "But, hey, it wasn't fat. My pictures were great." In Sydney, at a warmup tournament for the Australian Open, a fist fight broke out
between spectators attempting to grab Kournikova's sweaty towel after a practice session. Then, at the Open, tow fervent male fans paid homage to their heroine by putting on blonde wigs and dresses. Ten others held a banner that read ANNA, WILL YOU MARRY ME? Says Kournikova, "The only question I had was, Which one? Should I marry all of them?"
Even a practice session on a weekday afternoon in Indian Wells, in the sleepy Southern California Desert, draws a heavy surge of testosterone. Kournikova plays to her admirers without acknowledging them, at one point turning her back to the crowd and shaking her fat-free butt at her coach, Pavel Slozil. Alla, 35, gets her share of attention, too. A ball boy gasps, "Anna's your daughter? I thought she was your friend."
If Anna is a princess, Alla is a queen. "Mama is the head coach and always will be," says Bollettieri. "You can't fight Mama, because she and Anna are very close."
Slozil says that Alla, like many tennis moms, "is a little bit crazy, and you have to be. Otherwise you're just average. But she's positve crazy, not like Mary Pierce's father. It's not easy being in her position. She and Anna are like sister to sister, but sometimes Alla must be the mother, and sometimes the father, too."
The father, Sergei, a former Greco-Roman wrestler who works in the Russian physical culture ministry, stayed behind in Moscow when his wife and their only child moved to Florida in 1992. The Kournikova's reunite when Anna has downtime or when Sergei travels to a tournament, which he does five or six times a year. "It is hard, but I'm not one of those people who cries about it," Alla says. "She's my child, and I want to be there for her. What else would I be doing?"
When Anna was five, she joined a youth club that congregated at Moscow's Soklniki Park. In addition to playing tennis, Anna spent her days jogging, hiking, taking amusement park rides and eating ice cream. "We were regular, average people," she says.By the time Anna was eight, Alla and Sergei had realized that they had a prodigy. Within two years they had signed Anna up with IMG, and mother and daughter had shipped out for Bollettieri's. Two years later Anna, who ended 1995 as the ITF junior world champion, would play in her first pro tournament.
"In Russia there is no word for boyfriend," Kournikova says. "You're either married or you're friends. Maybe people want to see Sergei as my boyfriend, but he's just a good friend of mine--a very good friend. OUr families are close. We came from the same background, and we have a lot in common."
True, the families seem friendly, and Alla says of Anna and Sergei, "They're friends. It's normal." But press Anna for details of the friendship, and she gets squeamish. She says that she and Fedorov met on a Moscow tennis court, but she won't specify when, saying only, "it was years ago."
Haas says that "nothing ever happened" between Kournikova and him at Bollettier's "partly because she already had a boyfriend--Fedorov. I think she was 14."
Says Kournikova, "It doesn't matter how old you are. Why shold other people tell me who I should be friends with or what I should do? They're not perfect themselves, and it's none of their business.Some things are personal. You wouldn't say what you did with your wife, either."
But much of Kournikova's personal life has been lived in public.Last June, shortly after the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup on Kournikova's 16th Birthday, she rode in a car with Fedorov in a
victory parade in Detroit. A few weeks later, during Wimbledon, they were seen together at the All England Club and around London. Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom wrote of encountering Fedorov and saying hello to Fedorov, who greeted him with what seemed to be a nervous smile.According to Albom, Fedorov didn't introduce him to Kournikova and was "wiggling like a sixth-grader spotted by his pals while talking to a girl."
At last summer's US open, Fedorov, who declined to be interviewed for this story, attended Kournikova's matches. This led the New York Post to quote someone in the Queens district attorney's office as saying, "Mr. Fedorov had better watch his step.Or more to the point, he had better watch his hands."
Kournikova rolls her eyes as the quote is recounted to her. "Where did that attorney come from?" she asks. "Who is he to care? When I go to New York this year, I'll be 17, and I've been told that's the
legal age there. So I can do whatever I want. At this year's Open, I'll have five boyfriends."
Kournikova's maturity, or lack of it, is an issue with some players."She's the type of girl who one day says hi and the next day walks right by you, so I just stopped saying hi," says Lindsay Davenport, the No. 2 ranked woman player. "She loves to create attention, She's always looking around to make sure that spotlight's on her."
"Forget what the players say," Kournikova says. "Ask the fans. I think it's normal for people to be jealous. But I've never been jealous of anybody. I've never said, 'I wish I was her.' Honestly, I wish I was me."
Hingis says, "but I'm sure she would like to change places with me if she could and have four Grand Slam titles." The Hingis-Kournikova rivalry has been hyped since both were juniors, but Kournikova is 0 for 3 against the world No. 1. "Everybody else is making it up to be a rivalry," Hingis Says,"but so far, it hasn't been."
The last time you talk to you Kournikova, she is positively giddy, a testament to sunshine, California rolls and the silliness that comes from a surplus of frenetic teenage energy. She doesn't want to end her interview without the final word on her relationship with Fedorov. Sitting in the passenger seat of a rented convertible, she makes a request. "I have a lot of boyfriends," she says." I want you to write that. Every country I visit, I have a different boyfriend. And I kiss them all."
She blows a kiss into the wind as the convertible races across the desert. Wherever she's headed, she's damn sure enjoying the ride.