Tennis Players Who Changed the Game: Anna Kournikova
In any sport, there is that one figure who is able to fill the seats in stadiums and create a new fanbase. Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan, and Diego Maradona are the obvious examples.
Nobody brought more of a celebrity status to the game of tennis than Anna Kournikova. That's not to say that she wasn't a talented player, even as a young girl.
Just 14 years old when debuting in professional tennis, she was the youngest player ever to participate in and win the Fed Cup for Russia. Kournikova made her grand slam debut in 1996 at the U.S. Open.
Reaching the fourth round, eventual champion Steffi Graf eliminated the 15-year-old. Named the WTA Newcomer of the Year in 1996, the Russian finished the season ranked No. 57.
Kournikova had another tremendous run at a major tournament in 1997, which was at Wimbledon. She reached the semifinals where she was defeated by Martina Hingis, who also went on to win the title.
Joining Chris Evert, she became the second woman in the open era to reach the semifinals of her Wimbledon debut. It was in 1998 that she broke into the top 20 as the 16th ranked player.
Partnering with a number of different women in doubles competition, Kournikova had also reached the No. 10 rank in that category. By the end of 1999, she was the top ranked player in doubles competition and 12th best in singles.
That year, she won her first Grand Slam title in women's doubles with Hingis. The two were named Doubles Team of the Year by the WTA. Although she had been ranked as high as No. 8 in singles, her greatest success came in doubles.
She re-lived victory at the 2002 Australian Open in doubles with Hingis. Shockingly enough, this was her final title in doubles and she had never won a singles major in her career.
Today, she still competes in exhibition matches for charitable causes, but hasn't played on the WTA Tour since 2003.
Kournikova possessed tremendous foot speed and aggressive baseline play. She had the ability to create angles and drop shots. However, her serve was inconsistent at times in singles and her ground strokes produced many errors.
Unsurprisingly, her style is more fitting for doubles play, as she is reliable at the net and is assisted by her height.
Outside of tennis, Kournikova had plenty of attention for various reasons.
During her debut at the U.S Open in 1996, the world got a first look at her jaw-dropping beauty and numerous magazines published her pictures. Sports Illustrated, Maxim Magazine, and FHM have all featured her photographs at some point in time.
In four separate years (1998, 2000, 2002, 2003), she was named one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. FHM placed her in first for their 100 Sexiest Women in the World feature in 2002.
Her personal life was also a point of interest for the public as rumours swirled around that she was married to hockey stars Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov on separate occasions.
Today, she is the current spokesperson for K-Swiss and has affiliations with Yonex as well.
So, while Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova had won countless championships, Kournikova generated publicity that was unheard of in tennis prior to her arrival.
She brought a different lifestyle to the game and popularised the sport. Anna Kournikova is possibly the most popular female athlete in the world.
That's one way of making an impact.
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