<br />As far as tennis is concerned, Anna Kournikova would like to forget 2001. But the most difficult eight months of her life have turned her into a much more mature person.<br />She did not display a trace of arrogance when she arrived in South Africa on Monday for the three-match MTN/Spar challenge series against Amanda Coetzer this week.
The 20-year-old Russian tennis has been through the mill in recent times but seems to have emerged as a woman much more at peace with herself.
"It was a very difficult eight months," she said, referring to the time she was sidelined by a foot injury. "I woke up one morning in February with a stress fracture to my foot - apparently it builds up over a period of time.
"The injury did not react to treatment and rehabilitation and I had to undergo surgery. My foot was in a cast and I spent nearly two months in hospital in Germany. I was not even at home where I would have been more comfortable.
"I tried to return before Wimbledon, but a reaction occurred and my foot was put back in plaster. I felt so helpless. I am hyperactive and for four months couldn't even walk to the fridge. I had to rely on others to bring me things.
"At one stage I felt as if I had been in every hospital in Germany and Florida (America). I can become a doctor with all my experience of hospitals," she laughed.
"It makes you realise how short a tennis player's career is and that you must make the most of it. Since my return, every match I play is important.
"I gained a lot of confidence by winning some matches in the last tournament I played. I feel good and I am not suffering any side-effects from the injury," she said.
She regards the exhibition matches against Amanda Coetzer very seriously because they form part of her way back into the top ten.
"I need all the match practise I can get. Amanda is a tough opponent and it is a challenge to play against her. There are no free points."
"She is very competitive and makes you work for every point with her consistent return. Even though I lost the last few matches against her, the matches were never one-sided. If one loses to Amanda it is not necessarily because one has played badly," she said.
Kournikova's goals for next year include regaining match-fitness and then working to get back among the top ten. There are many players who have not yet won a singles' title, she said.
"If I play to the best of my ability and work very hard, I believe the title will follow."
When asked whom she regarded as the best woman player this year, she said she "didn't take part in the series often enough, but according to the ranking it must be Lindsay Davenport".
[ November 06, 2001: Message edited by: bulgar ]</p>