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Anna Kournikova
Frank Deford
June 05, 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 baby can count as much as a good backhand a good backhand
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June 05, 2000

Anna Kournikova

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 baby can count as much as a good backhand a good backhand

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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.

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