Don’t you just love going back down memory lane? Remembering what (and who) got you into tennis and reminding yourself why you came to love the sport. I sure do. Unsurprisingly, the generation that commanded my attention from a ridiculously young age was the explosive foursome of Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Anna Kournikova and Serena Williams. Admittedly, I hated Martina back then (my opinion on her has drastically changed since then) – but even she, with her mouth the size of Mount Everest, and her evil Chucky smile, made me sit up and take notice of tennis like never before. I unconditionally loved the other three, however. And though Venus and Serena, throughout the years, have always been my favourite players, that beautiful blonde Russian, who I forever longed to marry, was never far behind.
When Anna Kournikova is brought into a conversation, the words and phrases that come to the surface are usually along the lines of “blonde”, “beautiful, “ponytail”, “couldn’t even win a title”, “she SUCKS!” And it’s a shame. Sure she never won a title, she didn’t even come close to matching the achievements of her three contemporaries, and her beauty forever generated more publicity than her game, but something usually forgotten or neglected to mention is that outside of the glamour, away of the photoshoots, and removed from those indecently gigantic “only the balls should bounce” billboards, Anna Kournikova was a great tennis player.
Though she retired at the tender age of 22 with a chronic back injury, she managed to reach the fourth round of all slams multiple times, peaking with a semifinal at Wimbledon in 1997, the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in 2001, in addition to a final at the self-billed “fifth slam” in Miami (defeating 4 Grand Slam Champions and top tenners in a row) and finishing 2000 with a career high ranking of 8. Her doubles career was even more impressive – she reached number one with two Grand Slams, two tour championships in addition to amassing a number of slam finals and 12 other titles with a slew of different players.
Outside of mere stats, what made her such a great player were her god-given talents. From her flawless hand and foot speed, to her intelligent use of angles, her perfectly executed dropshots, the manner in which she could navigate her way around the net – anticipating passing shots, cutting off angles and brushing away volleys for winners. Though built on the basis of strong, flat groundstrokes, her variety and the intellect she injected into her tennis made her such an exciting, attractive and formidable player when at her best.
And that’s why I hope, perhaps naively, that one day it will just click in people’s heads and she won’t be remembered solely for the fact that she is a drop-dead gorgeous tennis player. And certainly not for the misconception that she was awful at her profession. I hope that one day she will be remembered for the fact that on the court she was entertaining, exciting, and fundamentally, a damn good tennis player.