September 19, 2002

Kournikova: All Looks, No Skill

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Make that 116.

That is the number of consecutive WTA tournaments that tennis’s sweetheart has played without coming away with a first-place trophy.

She’s dating Enrique Iglesias.

She’s modeled watches.

She has starred in a music video.

She even has her own fitness tapes.

Topless photos of her were published. Oh wait, that was someone else.

Yes, it’s Anna Kournikova, the tennis-when-it’s-convenient star.

There are two things I would like to ask of the officials who have strung Kournikova along for this painful ride.

1. If I get plastic surgery and look like her, can I play too?

2. If that won’t work, maybe you will accept some “favors” instead?

Kournikova must be doing something that gets her invitations to these tournaments and it is certainly not by playing tennis.

Obviously she does have some talent and skill, too, because she is still around. She actually has made it to the finals of other tournaments and competed against people whose names we know. In 1998, Kournikova lost to Venus Williams in three sets in the final of the Ericsson Open. In 1999, she lost to Martina Hingis in two sets in the championship match of the Family Circle Cup. In her last singles tournament appearance prior to this weekend, she lost again to Hingis in the 2000 Kremlin Cup in straight sets.

What the heck was she doing for the past 24 months? Playing in a few singles and doubles tournaments, in which she has seen more luck than going alone, yes, but mostly building her career outside of the tennis realm. And hanging out with Enrique.

I’m sure she practiced here and there, and that is probably what got her to the finals in a tournament in Shanghai for the first time in two years.

Have you ever heard of Anna Smashnova? Neither have I, but that is who defeated Kournikova 6-2, 6-3 on Sunday.

The 19th-ranked Kournikova seemed to have the advantage going into the match. She had played and beat Smashnova twice before, the most recent victory coming in August, but Kournikova was clearly struggling from the first serve.

Kournikova failed to score a point until the third game of the first set when Smashnova hit a shot wide. Ultimately, errors led to Kournikova’s demise as Smashnova returned shot after shot and quickly wore her opponent down.

Kournikova returned to the court a few hours after her loss with partner Janet Lee and won the doubles final in straight sets to garner her 16th WTA doubles title.

In her seven-year professional career, Kournikova has only reached the finals of a WTA singles tournament four times, so I’ve got a bit of advice for this forlorn athlete.

Quit competing in singles tournaments. Yes, you may never be known for your tennis skills — doubles players rarely receive the same recognition for their wins — but at least you’ll be able to resign as least respected tennis player in the sports world.

If the whole doubles thing doesn’t work out, quit now while you’ve still got your looks going for you.

Or does Enrique like dating a loser?

Archived article by Katherine Granish