Imagine my shock when I researched Anna Kournikova this week and found out that she just turned 30. In many ways, that kind of sums her up. None of the numbers associated with her matter much, long as she’s looking the way she is in the picture above.
The former tennis pro last played in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour in 2003, and is probably most famous for having never won a singles tournament her entire career.
This stat baffles me. It did before, it does now. For a professional tennis player of her skills to never win one tournament, just any tournament, says a lot about what she wasn’t as an athlete.
But then again, Kournikova’s whole narrative has always been more aesthetic than athletic. She brought many new fans to the sport. To follow her tennis career was just an excuse to watch a beautiful girl swing a racket. You just felt less guilty and sexist.
Kournikova was a sensation, despite the lack of a winning record, she made millions of endorsements usually reserved for you know, successful athletes. No matter though, her ascension via physical appearance is rivaled by few, if any. One time, a towel boy at the Australian Open was offered $63 for a sweat-soaked Kournikova towel. The most ridiculous part of the story is that the towel boy said no.
But it wouldn’t be fair to say that Kournikova was just another athlete. She was one of a kind in many ways. No other female athlete took their popularity and made a career on the sheer power of attraction. Kournikova changed the dynamic of what it meant to be a successful athlete. You didn’t need to be good at your sport, you just needed to brand yourself appropriately.
Asked about her shortcomings as a tennis player, Kournikova expressed no regrets: “In a perfect world, would I have won a tournament? Yes. But I wasn’t able to string those matches together. Sometimes I got unlucky, and sometimes I just lost. Regrets? Not a thing. Except to be a little stronger physically. Come on, regrets? I grew up a little girl in the Soviet Union playing at a small sports club. Tennis gave me my life.”
Kournikova is very aware of who she is and who she isn’t. Does she deserve such popularity and wealth? I’m not sure why being a lesser player would make you less deserving of either. Is it unfair? I don’t feel like it’s entirely unfair. These are questions that I’m sure everyone has their own answers to.
Anna Kournikova may have never won a tournament as a tennis player, just don’t say she’s never accomplished anything.
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