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 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."