Kate's Notes

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Anna Kournikova

Anna Kournikova

Though Anna Sergeyevna Kournikova (June 7, 1981) is probably one of the most recognizable women tennis players in the world, she became famous more for her stunning, sporty looks, stuck-up persona, and personal relationships, than for her tennis game. Now retired, at the peak of this Russian beauty’s fame, she was named one of the most sexy women in the world by FHM Magazine and Maxim Magazine, one of People Magazine's top 50 most beautiful people of 1998, and was one of the most searched names on Google; though, she has still never won a singles tournament, and was ranked 299th player in the world in 2003.

However, from her debut into tennis at the 1996 U.S. Open at the age of 15, Kournikova's blond hair and healthy physique were notable distractions to, not only the followers of the game, but also international media outlets as well. Soon, pictures of her sprinting the court were being shown all over the world, and she became an icon for young tennis players everywhere.

Early Life and Career

Kournikova was born in Moscow to Alla and Sergei Kournikov; her family later emigrated to the United States. Both Alla and Sergei, a natural athlete who wrestled professionally and coached tennis part-time, encouraged Kournikova to take part in physical activity at an early age. Kournikova graduated from a Russian high school in 1997, and subsequently attended Physical Culture Russian University.

When she turned five, she received her first tennis racquets for Christmas; not a wealthy family, by any means, later she learned that her parents had sold one of their television sets in order to afford them. Immediately, she took to the game, and began hitting the courts at Moscow's Soklniki Park. Soon, she was a member of the prestigious Spartak Tennis Club, which was coached by the husband of Russian pro, Olga Morozova. At age eight, Kournikova began appearing in junior clinics and quickly caught the eye of local tennis scouts. Though, she says that her childhood was "average," and she spent a lot of time shopping, going to amusement parks and with friends.

When the ATP Tour established a major tournament in Moscow in 1990, Kournikova finally had the opportunity to show off her skills for the international tennis community. The nine-year-old prodigy competed in the juniors and soon signed a management deal: within two years, Kournikova was headed to Bradenton, Fla., where she trained at famed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy.

Bolletieri, one of the most influential people in the world of tennis, instantly recognized her potential, and was quoted as saying, "Anna is a shotmaker… She has the ability to create situations on the court that very few people can create. And at the net she's brilliant. She hits volleys from all angles. The only person I could compare her to is John McEnroe."

This burgeoning talent was on the professional fast-track and at 14, she became the youngest player ever to win a Fed Cup match and captured the European Championships and Italian Open juniors. At the end of 1995, she was ranked No. 1 and crowned as ITF Junior World Champion: she was ready to hit the professional circuit.

Shortly after turning 15, Anna made the world’s head turn by reaching the fourth round in her first Grand Slam tournament, the 1996 U.S. Open, only to be stopped by then-top ranked player, Steffi Graf.

Tennis Career

Kournikova was a member of the Russian delegation to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1997, at the age of 16, she reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon, where she lost to the eventual champion, Martina Hingis by a score of 6-3, 6-2. 1998 proved to be her breakout year, when she made it into the WTA's top 20 rankings for the first time and scored impressive victories over Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, and Steffi Graf. Though she was impressive as a tennis player on her own, Kournikova's highest titles were in doubles tennis, with two Grand Slam doubles titles in 1999 and 2002, both at the Australian Open in the Women's Doubles event with partner Martina Hingis, with whom she played frequently starting in 1999.

Kournikova was an extraordinary doubles tennis player on the professional circuit, winning 16 tournament doubles titles, including two Australian Opens and being a finalist in mixed doubles at the U.S. Open and at Wimbledon, and reaching #1 ranking in doubles in the Women's Tennis Association Tour rankings. Her pro career doubles record was 200-71. However, her singles career stalled after 1999. For the most part, she managed to retain her ranking between #10 and #15 (her career high singles ranking was #8). However, she never broke through and achieved success as a singles player, and only reached four finals out of 130 singles tournaments, never in a Grand Slam event: she never won one a singles title.

As a player, Kournikova was noted for her foot-speed and aggressive baseline play and excellent angles and drop-shots; however, her flat, high-risk ground-strokes tended to produce high numbers of errors and her serve was sometimes unreliable in singles. Her singles record is 209-129.

Her final playing years were plagued by a string of back injuries, and she quickly fell in the international women's tennis rankings. Kournikova has not played on the WTA tour since 2003, but still plays exhibition matches for charitable causes.

Though she became an icon of female tennis, she never won a major tennis tournament in her entire professional career. Her best ranking in tennis was number 8 in the world in 2000. Since then her performance on the court has suffered due to her injuries and in June of 2002, she was knocked out of Wimbledon in the first round. As of October 2003, she was ranked 299th in the entire world.

In late 2004, she participated in three events organized by Elton John and by fellow tennis players Serena Williams and Andy Roddick. In January 2005, she played in a doubles charity event for the Indian Ocean tsunami with John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, and Chris Evert.

In November 2005, she teamed up with Martina Hingis, playing against Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur in the WTT finals for charity. Kournikova is also a member of the Sacramento Capitals in the World Team Tennis (WTT), playing doubles only.

Kournikova's playing style fits the profile for a doubles player, and is complemented by her height (5'8"). She has been compared to such players as Pam Shriver and Peter Fleming. Based on their looks, Hingis and Kournikova facetiously referred to themselves as the "Spice Girls of Tennis." Her fastest serve was clocked at 111.2 mph during the Paris Indoors of 1998.

In a feature for ELLE magazine's July 2005 issue, Kournikova stated that if she were 100% fit, she would like to come back and compete again.

Modeling and Endorsements

Anna has also proven her earning power by being one of the richest women in sports, thanks to lucrative contracts with companies like Adidas, Yonex, Berlei (the famous sports bra), Omega (also the choice of Cindy Crawford and Pierce Brosnan), and Lycos (who once named Anna the most popular athlete on the Internet, moving Michael Jordan to the No. 2 spot). By 2002, she was reportedly making $10 million a year, and she continues to be the most photographed woman in sports, eventhough she is far from being an exemplary athlete.

In 2000, Kournikova became the new face for Berlei's shock absorber sports bras range, and appeared in the highly successful "only the ball should bounce" bill board campaign. Photographs of her scantily-clad body have appeared in various men's magazines, including more than one much-publicized Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issues (2004 – 2005), where she posed in bikinis and swimsuits, and in other popular men's publications such as FHM and Maxim.

Though she has not posed nude for any publications, there are pictures of her taken by nosey paparazzi, sunning topless during a Caribbean vacation, which have circulated the internet and gossip magazines.

Kournikova was named one of People's 50 Most Beautiful People in 1998, 2000, 2002, and 2003 and was voted "hottest female athlete" and "hottest couple" (with Iglesias) on ESPN.com. Though ESPN also ranked Kournikova 18th in its "25 Biggest Sports Flops of the Past 25 Years," due to the fact that she is publicized so much, but ranked so low.

In 2002, she also placed first in FHM's “100 Sexiest Women in the World” in U.S. and UK editions.

Covering all bases of media, Kournikova had a small role (as a motel manager) in the 2000 film Me, Myself and Irene, starring Jim Carrey and Renée Zellweger.

With the fame, of course comes some level of danger: a man named William Lepeska once swam naked across Biscayne Bay in search of her Miami Beach home after attempting to contact Kournikova via a number of letters and e-mails. When apprehended by the police, Lepeska violently resisted arrest.

Personal Life

Because of her signature looks, and toned body, Anna became known as the "Britney Spears of Tennis,” and most of Kournikova's fame has come from her modeling, endorsements, and her personal life.

Kournikova's marital status has been an issue on several occasions. There were conflicting rumors about whether or not she was engaged to hockey player Pavel Bure. There were also reports that she married NHL hockey star Sergei Fedorov in 2001, though Kournikova's representatives have denied this. However, Fedorov stated in 2003 that the couple had in fact married and since divorced.

Kournikova is currently in a relationship with pop star Enrique Iglesias (she appeared in his music video, "Escape" in 2002). Rumors that the couple had secretly married appeared in 2003 and again in 2005 have been persistent as Kournikova herself has consistently refused to directly confirm or deny any facts about the status of her personal relationships.

Kournikova has a tattoo of a sun design on her lower back, which made its "debut" at the 2003 Australian Open. Oddly, she denied having it, telling reporters that it was actually a heat patch to treat back pain. Far from humble, the blond beauty has been quoted as saying "I'm like a menu at an expensive restaurant, you can look at me, but you can't afford me" and "I'm beautiful, famous and gorgeous.” Because of this, she has been seen as having a holier-than-thou attitude, and has been described as everything from flamboyant, stuck-up, arrogant, to photogenic, athletic, and exotic.


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