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Kournikova's humble, lucrative career may be ending

By Mike Lopresti USA TODAY
8/1/2003





Ah, the injustice of it all ...

Ernie Banks never played in a World Series.

Dan Marino never won a Super Bowl.

Patrick Ewing never was NBA champion.

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And now here's depressing news from the hard courts.

Anna Kournikova may never win a tennis tournament.

Posters, posters everywhere, but not a victory to list.

Her agent has said she might have to hang up the racquet because of a bad back, though she looked healthy enough to me the last 23 times I called up her Web site.

Anna retired? So many tops to model, so little time.

All this is a depressing turn for male fandom, a considerable portion of which enjoyed tuning in to a tournament now and then to see how Kournikova's ground strokes were looking, not to mention her outfit.

Of course, that meant they'd have to be there in time to watch the first or second round.

This is not to disparage the tennis ability of someone who could beat me 6-0, 6-0 and not get out of her lawn chair. I wouldn't mind being ranked in the top 100 of the world in anything.

But still, fact is fact when it comes to Kournikova's rather humble on-court career.

Never in the course of athletic conflict have so many paid so much attention to someone who has done so little.

If this is it, she will retire having never won a WTA singles tournament in her frantically photographed life. Not one.

But she looked resplendent in losing in the first round at Wimbledon. She was dazzling as she was ousted in the second round at Roland Garros. She was stunning as she was beaten in the third round at Flushing Meadows.

Not that the results probably mattered to her accountants. Forbes magazine estimated she made $9 million last year, counting all the endorsements. It ranked her No. 70 on its top 100 celebrities list, four spots higher than Annika Sorenstam, who flattened women's golf so thoroughly she got to play with men.

Which just goes to show it's not always whether you win or lose, but how you look in an evening gown.

But let us be fair. Kournikova has been not just another pretty face. She has been savvy in her marketing, shrewd in her promoting, and charming in her personality. She has played to her strengths, and none of them appear to be her backhand.

That may not get her into many tournament finals, but it has opened the door to a lot of shoe and lingerie commercials. And the Internet surfers still go searching for her by the thousands.

Excuse me while I reboot ... oh, where were we?

Surely, there must be something wistful inside her about where her career has gone, and where it hasn't.

She was only 16 when she made the semifinals in her first Wimbledon, and back then, the story was of her considerable tennis promise. But she has never advanced that far again in a grand slam event, and now she probably never will.

"Some people get there earlier, some people get there later," she said only this past spring, still publicly hoping her game would arrive one day.

But it looks like that ship will never come in. She will have to accept her legacy for what it's been, that of a Russian blonde bombshell who has seemingly dated enough NHL players to fill a penalty box, and whose only notable conquests in her own game came in doubles.

She is the pinup girl of tennis, rather than the queen. It can't be entirely satisfying. But it sure pays the bills.


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