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She Won't Win The French Open, But Who Cares? Anna Kournikova Is Living Proof That Even In This Age Of Supposed Enlightenment, A Hot Body Can Count As Much As A Good Backhand

June 05, 2000
June 05, 2000

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June 5, 2000

She Won't Win The French Open, But Who Cares? Anna Kournikova Is Living Proof That Even In This Age Of Supposed Enlightenment, A Hot Body Can Count As Much As A Good Backhand

"I'm the perfect age right now," Anna Kournikova says with great
delight."I can be a little girl or I can be grown up. I can be
whichever I want."

This is an article from the June 5, 2000 issue Original Layout

And like that, both woman and child, she can also by turns be
cagey or guileless, wise or foolish, cocky or dependent, tender
or tough, coquettish or direct, beautiful or...

Beautiful.

As Raymond Chandler wrote in Farewell, My Lovely, "It was a
blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass
window." Anna is that kind of gorgeous, and Anna knows it.

Oh, she protests, properly, "I have things about me that are not
perfect." Things in your looks? "Yes, and that is what I think
about. Those things. But I am a tennis player. There are
thousands of beautiful women, but how many have the ability to
play tennis, to be a personality? If I would be ranked 500, no
one would look at me."

This, too, is true to a point. If Catherine Zeta-Jones were still
a shopgirl in Wales, how many people would look at her in quite
the same way as they do now that she is a movie star? Beauty is
in the eye of the ticket holder. But Kournikova is certainly not
ranked 500th. To be sure, she isn't No. 1 either, but she is 15th
in the world, and that is good enough. Well, for now. After all,
she turns 19 this month--which is middle-aged in women's
tennis--and she has never won a single WTA tournament, nor is she
any immediate threat to the merely better players who are not so
pretty.

And yet, and yet: There has never been anyone quite like Anna
Kournikova in sports. Never anyone so rich and famous the world
over just for being a beautiful athlete. Jonas Bjorkman, who
played mixed doubles with Kournikova this year in Australia,
says, "It's quite amazing to stand on the court with her and see
so many guys going nuts." Moreover, she has achieved this status
at a time when we are all supposed to be so gender-enlightened,
when pretty isn't supposed to matter anymore in the workplace,
especially in such a meritocratic domain as sports. So here is
what Kournikova proves about Homo sapiens, male division, circa
2000: Skin-deep still counts.

That, for example, is why this magazine, which is not run by
naifs, has Ms. Kournikova on its cover this week instead of some
grubby Devils goon or some sweaty-armpitted Laker--and why she
has graced the covers of diverse U.S. magazines from Forbes to
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOR WOMEN (Women!) and has been photographed
for the covers of various international versions of Esquire,
Vogue and Cosmopolitan, as well as magazines you (and she) never
heard of, from Europe to Asia to Africa. Men's magazines.
Women's magazines. General interest magazines. Magazines about
sports. Fashion. Finance. Travel. "She's beautiful, she's
wholesome, she's fresh," says Susan Kaufman, creative director
for fashion and beauty at US Weekly and a former editor at
Glamour and Mademoiselle. Anna Kournikova, tennis player, may
well be the most photographed woman on the face of the earth.

"Who else?" asks Ulf Dahlstrom, one of her Adidas
representatives. "Who else crosses all the boundaries--the whole
spectrum, all over the world? Who ever did before her? Anna is
everything."

Even allowing for the fact that Mr. Dahlstrom does go on, Anna
has been ranked by Lycos as high as the 19th-most-searched-for
item--person, place or thing--on the Internet. She is the No. 1
downloaded athlete, with more than 20,000 Web pages devoted to
her, under such breathless names as "Anna at the Temple of
Babes," "Upskirts Anna" and "The Annamaniacs Page." Today's
vote: Should Anna cut her hair? Verdict: No, never. Please,
never, Anna. Hot is the most favored word in these shrines.
"Anna Kournikova's Palace" has it just right, boasting "lots of
sexy pics with latest scores." Really, isn't that all that 21st
Century Man desires? Sex and scores. Anna is everything.

Moreover, on eBay, in the section dedicated to collectible
photographs, you may order pictures of the Ground Strokin'
Goddess with such titles as "Sexy Pose," "Super Sexy Pose" and,
more bluntly, "Nice Butt." She will appear in the Jim Carrey
movie Me, Myself & Irene this month, about the same time that
all over Britain, 1,500 billboards will loom revealing Anna in
her Berlei sports bra, with the admonition ONLY THE BALL SHOULD
BOUNCE. Last year, the day after her first-round match at
Wimbledon, the London papers ran 22 pictures of her. The Sun
even broke its sacred tradition of displaying a monster-bosomed
topless bimbo on Page 3 to show Anna demurely clothed. Only Anna
brings together the agate type of the sports page with the
boldface names and the three dots of the tabs: Ground Strokin'
Goddess Anna Kournikova...wearing a purple dress with white
trim...won her third-round match...6-2, 4-6, 7-5.

All this, and the Jezebel of Sweat also teases us with an
orchestrated love life that by comparison makes the U.S. tax
code easy to follow. "She enjoys the game of it," says Eric Van
Harpen, her coach. "The secrets. She enjoys just saying
'perhaps.' What woman does not want to say 'perhaps'?" Whom does
Anna love? Sergei? Perhaps. Nicolas? Perhaps. Pavel? Perhaps.
Mark? Perhaps. Will she marry? Perhaps. Did she really announce
that she is still a virgin? Perhaps. Did she actually mean it
when she said the women on tour will one day be playing topless?
Perhaps. Anna, over here. Anna, please. Look here. There's Anna.
(Even in America, with our nasal a's, everybody pronounces it
right--Anna, as in ah.) Ahhh. Oooh. COME WATCH ANNA'S SERVES AND
CURVES! The home-movie cameras whir. Little boys chase after
her. Big boys leer after her. Special K. Baby Spice. Pornikova.

Charlie Pasarell, who runs the Indian Wells tournament in
Southern California, leans forward at his desk and declares, "If
she won just one major, she would become the most famous female
athlete of all time." Just one? "Just one. She's that special."

On the other hand, if she doesn't win, when does it all start to
pale? Now she is the beauty who plays tennis. But what if she
becomes the beauty who never wins at tennis? It is all so big
right now, but maybe this is as big as it gets. Bubbles burst.
Says Billie Jean King, "Being a beautiful woman is a lot like
being a tennis player: You know the best of it has to end when
you're still young. To be both, as Anna is, can be hard. After
all, from age 10 she's heard two things over and over: how
beautiful she is and how great a player she is."

Of course, at least for now, her beauty is hers to keep,
unthreatened, undiminished. Tennis, though, is a game in which
other people--envious people--try to take something from you. So
it is still possible that...Anna Kournikova will be a very young
HAS-BEEN...in tennis...even if she has years left in
radiance...as a will-be.

Dear Anna Web Pagers,

Here's what I think: I don't think she is going to get married
anytime soon, anywhere, to anybody. You can put this on your
page: Exclusive! You see, I had a long chat with Anna, a
tete-a-tete. She has a good sense of humor and a nice way about
her, and there was only one time that she got put out, even a
little peeved at me. That was when we were talking about her
parents, Alla and Serguei. They married when Alla was 18--which is
to say, younger than Anna is now. It was the custom then in the
Soviet Union to marry young. So, in a very natural, clever segue,
I said, "It must be in your blood."

Anna looked at me quizzically. Then, bingo, she got my drift. She
took her hand away from her lip. She has a habit of playing with
her lip when she talks. (Another Exclusive! for your Web page.)
Then, sharply: "What's in my blood?"

"You know, that you want to get married young, too."

She scowled at me. Then: "No, no!" she shrieked. "Not me!" It
was a very unambiguous answer, indisputably visceral. There was
no perhaps.

Anna's father, a professor at the University for Physical Culture
and Sport in Moscow, has pretty much joined her troupe. Anna has
his eyes, but the rest of her she obviously derives from--shares
with--her mother. It was Alla who, alone, escorted Anna to America
a decade ago, to set up residence at Nick Bollettieri's tennis
academy in Florida. Alla herself is most fetching, and while she
has never been a shrinking violet (Bollettieri had to institute
what became known as The Kournikova Rule to keep her off the
practice court), she does not manipulate her daughter's life,
especially now that her only child has more grown-up days than
little-girl days. "It's a difficult age, isn't it?" Alla says.
"Anna still listens to me, but now she also wants to try
everything for herself." Still, when Anna is playing, it is
striking how often she glances over to her mother.

It is never easy to understand how genes work, but it is easy to
see where Anna got both her looks and her athletic ability.
Serguei and Alla are attractive physical specimens; he was a
wrestler, she a runner. But where Anna and Alla got their taste
is mysterious--coming out of a drab Communist existence, jammed
into a tiny two-room flat, with no resources and little
sophistication. Really: Their stylishness is more the marvel
than the tennis is. Martina Hingis, in contrast, seems to have
been born a genius on the court; she, too, was bred in a
Communist country and is represented by Adidas, but she stumbles
through style. Her hair is always wrong, her court clothes
old-womanish.

The Kournikova taste, though, is impeccable. Even when Anna
showed up at the Women's Tennis Association Awards banquet on
six-inch heels, wearing a form-fitting see-through knit minidress
that showed off a bare midriff and a leopard-skin bra--which
sounds like a 3 a.m. streetwalker's getup--it worked. On her. As
god-given beautiful as Kournikova is, it is her style and
presence that, in sports parlance, take her to a new level.
"There's an aura around her," says Claus Martens, another of her
Adidas managers. "The way she acts and walks, the whole
appearance. And believe me, it was there when she was 11 years
old."

On the court she is like a trim sloop, skimming across the
surface, her long signature pigtail flying about like a torn
spinnaker in the wind. Her lines are perfect--especially now that
she doesn't jam the second-service ball up her knickers--the
colors pure. "She surprises me," Alla says. "She really knows
clean, fresh clothes." She plays quickly, but at crossovers Anna
sits almost primly. Then, after patting her face with a towel,
just so, she always makes sure to reach down under her bottom and
smooth out her dress, so that not so much as one tiny wrinkle
sullies the effect. In practice she has that rare instinct to
dress elegantly casual. In matches she simply does not permit her
pigtail to bother her. Even when it flies right in front of your
face?

"No," Anna responds, impatiently. It wouldn't dare.

Always she is aware of the admiring eyes. "I feel [the fame] out
there," she says, "and yes, sometimes it's overwhelming. But it's
normal, because I understand that if you like something, you want
to learn more."

There is a wonderful videotape sequence, shot for HBO by Nigel
Reynolds, a crack English cameraman, from the balcony of the
indoor courts at Wimbledon a couple of years ago on a day that it
rained. The place is packed with players, all intent on getting
in a few precious minutes of practice. In the midst of this
merry-go-round, only Kournikova seems to be aware of the camera
above, flirting with it, somehow sensing exactly when it is on
her. "Oh," she once sighed to a doubles partner before a match on
one of those rare occasions when she was assigned an outside
court, "there'll be no one there. No boys."

Joyfully, one other day, after a good performance, she asked her
coach, "Did you see the faces, Eric?"

"Which ones?" Van Harpen replied. He explains, "All the men's
faces are like this." (He smiles foolishly.) "The women, like
this." (He scrunches up his nose.) "I think, for Anna, it is more
important to see the men's faces."

Jim Courier, recently retired but always as astute and wry as any
of the male players, reports that they all watch Kournikova with
nearly as much fascination as lasciviousness. "She's a born
diva," he says. "It's amazing how she's able to make it up as she
goes along. That's a thing of beauty, too."

Yet as clever as Anna and her mother have been in handling this
cynical and cosmopolitan Western world, their instincts deserted
them in the curious presentation of her
friendship?/romance?/playacting? with her two older Russian ice
hockey gentlemen callers, Sergei Fedorov of the Detroit Red Wings
and Pavel Bure of the Florida Panthers. The relationship with
Fedorov developed innocuously enough, because of a family
friendship. The Fedorovs let Anna and her mother move into their
$1.6 million apartment in Miami's South Beach, and the two
families share ownership now. Anna, however, was only 15 when she
started appearing with Fedorov in Detroit--he a grown man more
than a decade her senior. Then, on her sweet 16th birthday, June
7, 1997, the night the Red Wings won the Stanley Cup, in the
crowded locker room Fedorov loudly and fondly toasted Kournikova
as she stood on a stool, decked out in a hot pink number.

Shortly thereafter they appeared together at Wimbledon (thereby
throwing red meat to the ravenous gossips), and come the next
hockey season, Kournikova was so ever-present that Scotty Bowman,
the Red Wings' coach, groused about how "that girl" was leading
Fedorov around by the nose. In the NHL, Fedorov has a reputation
for being insecure, as young for his years as the confident
Kournikova can be old for hers. Therefore, despite the age
difference, a romance made sense to a lot of people. At one
point, too, Anna buttonholed Cynthia Lambert, then of The Detroit
News, flashed what looked like a wedding band and coyly suggested
that Lambert "ask Sergei about that."

Lambert did. Fedorov was dumbfounded. Nonetheless, he continued
to travel with Anna and her mother in his off-season--sometimes
seen dutifully slogging about the practice courts, picking up
loose balls while she worked out or flirted with whichever male
players happened by. Alla admits that she can understand the bad
impression, the Lolita tart image, created by Fedorov's presence
in The AK Corral. "Yes, it bothered me," Alla says before
protesting that it was all very innocent. "But we must do what we
do, and I don't think Anna's private life is anybody's business.
[The media] make a big deal, but sometimes they get the wrong
impression. They see friends, it doesn't mean it's her
boyfriend."

O.K., but then, suddenly, an even bigger star emerged to foster
another wrong impression. The cocksure Bure not only appeared in
Anna's tabloid life but also took up residence in her South Beach
apartment building, a few floors down from the Kournikova-Fedorov
digs. This time it was supposed to be Bure who did all the
teasing talk about rings. Perhaps. Anna says you shouldn't
believe everything you read in the papers, although apparently
she neglected to fill Fedorov in on this irresponsibility of the
press, because he went into such a funk from reading reports that
Bure had given her a $1 million engagement ring that Bowman even
let Fedorov skip practice to go flying off to Arizona this March
and give between 200 and 500 roses (estimates vary) to the
teenager who is supposed to be merely his fine romance with no
kisses.

Since tennis people are fonder of poor Fedorov than are many of
his fellow Red Wings, Anna's colleagues sympathized with his
broken heart. But they were befuddled by the rumored engagement
to Bure. After all, Anna had been seen canoodling with Mark
Philippoussis, the Australian tennis star, and then rendezvousing
with Nicolas Lapentti, Ecuador's top player. This seemed somewhat
unusual conduct for a happily engaged woman. Not since the day
that Hana Mandlikova got married in Prague and then had a wedding
party that the groom didn't attend had there been such a strange
amour in tennis.

Dear Anna Web Pagers,

If I don't have the wrong impression, the evidence is that Anna
likes her hockey players older and fair, her tennis players
younger and swarthy. Don't you think so? Wouldn't this make for a
good poll question?

You should know that the players on the men's tour are
following Anna's love triangle--pentagon?--with great interest,
especially mindful of the longstanding whispers that Bure has
ties to the Russian Mafia. There is much joshing in the locker
room that Lapentti might be a good first-round opponent, because
soon he could disappear, mysteriously, from the tour. Bye.

Scoop! But now, it seems, we're back to square one, as Fedorov
has returned. He was seen with Anna just last week in Majorca,
where she was rehabilitating her injured ankle so she could
return to action in this week's French Open.

Anna tells me, "The media get too deep into your private stuff.
It may seem like a mystery to you, but really, I am just trying
to have some things stay private." Well, what I think is that
Anna is like the prettiest girl in the class, in love with the
idea of love, enamored of the attention. This is fine, I think.
The prettiest girl in the class is often like this, otherwise why
be the prettiest girl in the class? The only thing is, Anna's
class is the whole world, and sometimes, on those days when she
is the little girl, she forgets this.

Maybe we can discuss this further in the chat room.

Women athletes have always had to deal with the negative image
of being too mannish. This is how jealous men have put down
athletic women: denying them their femininity, making them
neuter. If only symbolically, this dates all the way back to the
Amazons, who were supposed to have cut off their right breasts,
their womanhood, so that they could draw an arrow as well as the
men they battled. Nevertheless, in contradiction, there has
always been a vein of accepted pulchritude that has cut though
the mass of antagonism toward women in sports. It is almost as
if, despite themselves, men deign to give special dispensation
to a select few gorgeous athletes--admiring their women's
figures, not their athletes' bodies. But it is conflicting.

Probably the first female athlete who was also allowed to be
enticing was Annette Kellerman, an Australian swimmer and diver
who toured the U.S. in 1907, performing in a scandalous
short-sleeved bathing suit. Generally, though, it is the sequined
figure skating princesses who have most often been permitted
their sexuality. Sonja Henie became a first-rank movie star,
Dorothy Hamill was accepted as the American model for hair style,
and both Peggy Fleming and Katarina Witt were revered as classic
beauties. An occasional swimmer--notably Esther Williams and
Eleanor Holm--has achieved crossover status. So did Flo-Jo, the
sprinter, and two golfers, Laura Baugh and Jan Stephenson. In
fact, it is Baugh whom Anna's critics most often cite as the most
apt analogy to Kournikova, for whereas Stephenson became a
champion, Baugh's game never lived up to either her glamour or
her promise.

Except in the bush leagues of beach volleyball, team sports never
produced sex objects until the U.S. women's soccer team took on
its celebrated babe status last year. Brandi Chastain's
striptease was, possibly, as much an affirmation of that
emergence as it was a show of exuberance. But, most curiously,
whereas tennis has always been in the front rank of women's
sports, it has never produced a real sexpot. Helen Wills was
stylishly gorgeous but without any come-hither; Little Miss Poker
Face, they called her. In this generation Gabriela Sabatini
likewise had the looks but not the electricity. The sexiest
players who briefly achieved some acclaim--such as Gorgeous Gussy
Moran or the Golden Girl, Karol Fageros--were not big stars. Chris
Evert was cute, Miss American Pie, but hardly a femme fatale. So
the stage has been set for a long time for a Kournikova. To her
good fortune, she took the stage at a time that was especially
ripe commercially.

So Kournikova makes something like $10 million a year in
endorsements, 58th on the Forbes worldwide celebrity power list,
slightly behind Colin Powell and Donna Karan. As her manager,
Phil de Picciotto, president of the Octagon agency, points out,
she has several advantages. First, tennis is far and away the
most prominent women's sport throughout the world. Even in
soccer-mad countries, Brandi Chastain has all the visibility that
a badminton star has in the U.S. Plus, while many male athletes
must share the spotlight, Kournikova has the women's field almost
to herself.

Billie Jean King made women's tennis, but she gained almost no
endorsements. Still, she looks at Kournikova's uncommon success
pragmatically. "We have a chance to do what no other women's
sport has done, to gain equity with comparable men's sports,"
King says. "That's done at the box office. It doesn't bother me
at all if some of the guys come out to watch women's tennis
because they want to see a beautiful woman. Who could hold that
against Anna? Still, it is unfortunate when others with a high
skill factor don't win the endorsements. Sure, the good-looking
guys get more endorsements, but the difference in men's sports is
that the ugly ones get their share, too."

Perhaps, in the future, advertisers will be more inclined to
employ the same standards for female athletes. For now, though,
Kournikova is the original, made for the moment. As beautiful as
Stephenson was, she came too early--in the '70s and '80s--to cash
in; she was generally invited to promote only golf, not products.
"Women are employed more intelligently now in commercials," says
Scott Donaton, editor of Advertising Age. "You see fewer girls in
bikinis draped over cars. Instead, the women you see might still
be sex objects to men, but they appeal to women as successful
people, as role models. Most advertisers want to use a woman who
has achieved something, who is more than just beautiful. Anna
Kournikova fits into that perfectly."

Unlike Hingis--or for that matter, Steffi Graf, who also wore
Adidas--Kournikova is what is known as "cross-category." She
even moves stocks and bonds for Charles Schwab, and Adidas has
discovered that she sells menswear as well. In fact, there is
something of a gender reversal evident in the behavior of her
fans. Traditionally, young girls have emotionally responded to
male singers because, sex symbols though they may be, they are
safe and distant. One gets the same sense with many of Anna's
younger male fans, who worship her from afar. The Web sites are
often fawning, nearly pathetic. Ball boys moon over her. When
she tosses away her towel, the boys in the stands dive for this
sweaty talisman quite as girls go berserk scrambling for some
rock star's handkerchief. After all, unlike actresses and
musicians, female athletes do not present themselves primarily
as sexual figures. They are not as intimidating. As seductive as
Kournikova sometimes appears, she is still, at least for a bit
longer, the child-woman in the clean, neat tennis dress, with
the girlish braid and the sneakers--the best of wholesome
sexuality.

Jan Stephenson remembers how much the other players hated her for
being a sex symbol. "They were so jealous," she says. "I'd walk
into the locker room, and there'd be dead silence, and it was so
embarrassing, because I knew they'd been talking about me. They
wouldn't acknowledge that I was helping them. If I'd come to a
tournament ahead of time and promote it, we'd draw something like
20,000 extra people. But the other players thought I was
flaunting it." After a while Stephenson would skip the locker
room and change her spikes in the car.

Tennis now is different from golf then. The tennis stars all have
their own retinues, so the sorority atmosphere is diminished;
besides, there's plenty of money to go around. Obviously, though,
many players don't look at Kournikova as generously as Billie
Jean King does. "I just don't like her," No. 33-ranked Patty
Schnyder told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in April. Asked if
other players share her sentiment, Schnyder said, "If I see
everybody looks happy when she loses, I assume it's the case."

"I like her, but who does she think she is when she parades
around like a queen at the French Open, so absorbed that she does
not even notice hands holding out autograph books for her to
sign?" Nathalie Tauziat, the No. 7-ranked player, writes in her
new book, The Underside of Women's Tennis.

But Kournikova is, after all, awfully good at what she does. She
beats most other players and commands a grudging respect. Says
Monica Seles, a mature person of particular sensitivity, "Anna
has things that the rest of us don't have, so, yes, some of the
players are envious of her. But others who know her like her.
They all know she works hard. Remember, she comes from a hard
place, too--yes, like me--so perhaps Anna should get more credit
than some want to give her."

True enough. It's almost been forgotten how the child jumped from
the despair of Moscow to a sweet spot in the Florida sun, and cut
a swath right away. "Oh, there was an immediate first
impression," Bollettieri recalls, smiling. "Everything about her
said, Here I am! She knows who she is and how to take over. No
matter who I was working with--Seles, Agassi, whoever--she would
call out, 'Nick, my turn.' She was very impatient. She had to be
the center of attention. We had a little weekend camp-out, and
Anna wanted to know why she had to get her own meal, why she
couldn't be served her dinner."

She did work hard, but in the same way that her looks triumph for
her off the court, her athleticism--her quick feet, her
anticipation--lifted her game. There is a certain irony in that:
Because Kournikova moves in such a lovely fashion, even when she
plays well we tend to see the beauty and not the player. But
never mind: If she is to shoot to the top, she must make
substantive improvement in her game. Some even think that
Kournikova's high-water mark is past, that she peaked two years
ago when she had a superb spring, beating almost everybody,
including Graf, right before Wimbledon. But she sprained her
thumb in that match, and since then there's been no quantum
improvement.

Kournikova's dilemma is that although she hits hard, she cannot
match the power hitters, such as Davenport. And although
Kournikova has a fine all-court game, she is not the equal of the
brilliant Hingis. She's a tweener. Kournikova is wonderful at the
net--as proved by her eight doubles championships, including the
1999 Australian Open title with Hingis--but how does she get to
the net? Her serve, more a push than a hit, is weak, sometimes so
rife with double faults that Bjorkman, the tour mimic, imitated
it in a skit that brought down the house at the men's tour
cabaret night in Monte Carlo.

Van Harpen, an acerbic Dutchman, Kournikova's coach of nine
months, tries to be tough on her. "So many people are clapping
for you," he tells her, clapping foolishly himself, like the gaga
guys who watch her, "so why pay me to do the same?" He hovers by
her on court, watching her practice, the way all the older men
coaches stand near their young women, like film directors with
their ingenues. "How do I motivate her?" Van Harpen asks. "You
will have a Porsche? She has one. You will have jewelry?" He
touches his neck, his wrists, his fingers; we can visualize the
jewels. "No. So I tell her, 'Sure, you are a beautiful girl, but
there are enough of them in the world. But Anna, there has never
been a beautiful girl who can win at tennis.'"

Yes, he insists, there has been improvement. The main problem
with the serve was the toss. Kournikova is learning to play
angles better, too, becoming more patient. "I'm building points,"
she says. "I'm getting more confidence because of my patience."
Perhaps.

Says Van Harpen, "She's like a lot of girls. She returns active
on an active ball, passive on a passive." Women, he says, "are
different to coach. More emotional. Men play to win. Women play
not to lose. I know they will get mad at me for saying such a
thing, but"--he shrugs--"it is so. Very few women play their best
when they are ahead. You want to see a woman play her best? She
is down 5-2. She plays so loose, so well. They are so relaxed
then. But, if they catch up...." He shrugs again.

Give Anna her due, though; she often veers to the opposite. "The
people can see she will be risky," her mother says proudly. "I
have seen her try drop shots on match point. The crowd goes
'Ahhhh.' It is not just her looks. They like Anna for her
tennis."

To Van Harpen, though, the risks Anna takes are a function not so
much of her game as of her glamour. "The people who make 'Ahhhh,'
they don't know anything about tennis," he says, scowling. "I
remind her of that, but she loves the applause. She is the queen.
So she thinks she must play like the queen." He pauses.
"Sometimes, though, it is better to play like the beggar."

So maybe it is not Davenport and Hingis and the others across the
net whom Kournikova must overcome. Maybe it must always come down
to the internal rivalry: the Beautiful Celebrity versus the
Gritty Athlete. Is it possible to succeed as both,
simultaneously? Anna herself is convinced that the old-hat
oppositions do not imperil her game. "For others it will be hard
to understand, but," she says blithely, playing with her lip, "I
have been interviewed by The New York Times from the age of
nine."

Yet she so often remains that little girl--even, occasionally, her
mother says, "still a baby." Bollettieri muses, "Sometimes Anna
must be lost. She never had a childhood. She must wonder what
it's like to live a normal life."

Anna bristles. "Normal?" she snaps. "What is normal? That kind of
life everybody talks about as 'normal' wouldn't be normal for me.
From age five, when I first played tennis, that's all I wanted.
From the first I was so happy on the tennis court. I can't think
of anything better."

The people around her try to help her walk the tightrope. "Where
does our responsibility lie?" asks de Picciotto, her manager. "We
can't put her in a cocoon, but we can't accede to everybody's
wishes either. She's so creative. How do you inhibit her and not
hurt her tennis?" He blames her injuries, not her beauty, for her
failure to really take off.

Van Harpen marvels at Anna's ability to manage at all in the
middle of the maelstrom. "All the things she has around her head,
still to play well, I couldn't do it," he says. "I couldn't hit a
ball. Concentration isn't her biggest strength, but she's so used
to it all that it doesn't bother her anymore."

Perhaps. But perhaps she has adapted to her special circumstances
at the price of improving her tennis. Why not? "Oh, I loved the
attention," says Stephenson, the one person in the world who can
best imagine what it is to be Anna Kournikova. "I'm sure she does
too. I'd come to a tournament, and everybody wanted to talk to
me, everybody wanted to take my picture and put it in the paper.
It was great fun. If there was something wrong with my game, I'd
just have to play through it, because I was too busy with all the
other things."

Stephenson is 48 now, still on tour, happier than ever "now that
I'm not the glamour-puss," she says. She can concentrate on her
game; she's closer to the other players. But she hasn't
forgotten how hard it was when she was the beauty first. "If I
could tell Anna one thing," she says, "it would be, 'Don't get
carried away doing too much off the court. Concentrate on your
game.' As gorgeous as she is, she has a chance to have it all,
to be beautiful and a champion. But...."

But?

"But no matter what she says, the distractions--they have to
affect her."

Ultimately the main distraction is what Anna sees in the mirror.
You can't stop being pretty. "I do things for fun," she says. "I
am creative. I am an artist, so naturally I have other interests,
other talents."

But you can't give up beauty. It's not like abandoning a hobby
that's taking up too much time. It's not even like mending a
broken heart. You can't make people stop looking at you. You
can't make them stop falling in love with you.

Dear Anna Web Pagers,

Anna doesn't want to get into a discussion about whether her
American self is overwhelming her Russian being. It's enough
having the conflict between her looks and her tennis. Instead,
she calls herself a "person of the world." Fair enough.
Nonetheless, Anna still prefers to read in Russian--especially
the classics and history. She told me that she had been reading
a biography of Marie Antoinette and was really enjoying it. Only
later, Alla advised me, "She was liking the story, but then
there is the revolution, and they cut off her head, you know.
That is so sad for Anna that she doesn't read it so much anymore."

Sometimes, you see, it might be better to be a beggar than a
queen.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. COVER Advantage, KournikovaCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHED BY WALTER IOOSS JR. IN THE SPA OF THE PULA GOLF CLUB ON MAJORCA, MAY 23, 2000COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. KICKING BACK On Majorca last week, Kournikova took a break from rehabbing her ankle in preparation for the French Open.COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW Kournikova blossomed from a bony 12-year-old to sports' hottest pinup girl.COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: BILL SIKES/AP MIXED DOUBLES First she teamed up with Fedorov (above), then Bure (right), and now, it seems, Fedorov again, with others in between.COLOR PHOTO: MANNY HERNANDEZ [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR.COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER MAMA'S GIRL It's not hard to see where Anna gets her looks. COLOR PHOTO: EZRA SHAW/ALLSPORT THE BARE FACTS To climb to the top of the tennis ladder, Kournikova will have to step up her game considerably.
"If she won just one major," says Pasarell, "she'd become the
most famous female athlete of all time."
The Jezebel of Sweat teases us with an orchestrated love life
that makes the tax code easy to follow.
She may be the most photographed woman on earth. "Who else?"
Dahlstrom asks. "Anna is everything."
Where Anna and Alla got their taste is mysterious. Their
stylishness is more the marvel than the tennis is.
"Who does she think she is when she parades around the French
Open like a queen?" Tauziat writes.
"Sometimes Anna must be lost," Bollettieri says. "She never had
a childhood."