Anna Kournikova Is the Best and Worst Thing to Ever Happen to Women's Tennis

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Anna Kournikova Is the Best and Worst Thing to Ever Happen to Women's Tennis
Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images
Anna Kournikova at Sony Ericsson Kickoff Party

Anna Kournikova is the best and worst thing to ever happen to women's tennis.

Forget the equal prize money available to the winner of Wimbledon. Kournikova showed women how to get paid big bucks without winning jack. 

Kournikova's impact on women's tennis can be seen in the ridiculous debate between fans of Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams

Williams and Sharapova, the WTA's No. 1- and No. 2-ranked players, are also two of the biggest names in the game.

Whenever Williams defeats Sharapova, Sharapova's fans point out that she makes more in endorsements.

Only in women's tennis would this be considered a valid argument in a discussion on an athlete's superiority.

Endorsement money?

Thomas Niedermueller/Getty Images
Maria Sharapova signed a three-year deal to represent Porsche.

Peyton Manning supporters rarely throw up endorsement advantage when comparing his career to Tom Brady's. Playoff winning-percentage, interceptions and Super Bowl rings come up instead.  

Basketball fans don't consider Kia commercials when debating Blake Griffin's value in a trade for Dwight Howard.

After Adam Scott won the Masters, golf commentators never mentioned that Tiger Woods was way ahead in the endorsement battle. 

But thanks to Kournikova, women's tennis has been reduced to a race to be Vanna White with a racket.

In tennis, a woman's worth is sadly tied to how many products she can push. 

Kournikova became the standard-bearer for making more money off the court than on.  

In 2002 Kournikova was reportedly making $10 million a year in endorsements, even though she had never won a professional singles tournament. 

The Kournikova era ushered in a new type of tennis star. Instead of making a name through conquering the courts, women could reach tennis stardom by looking good and playing "good enough."

When you look at the ATP, the men earning the most in endorsements are also the best players.

Roger Federer leads all ATP players in endorsements with $45 million. He also leads all current players in Grand Slams (17) won.

Rafael Nadal, winner of 12 Grand Slams, earns $21 million off the court. Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 player and winner of six Grand Slams, reportedly makes $14 million in endorsements.  

With women, perceived appeal outweighs achievement. 

Winner of four Grand Slams, Sharapova earns $26 million annually off the court. That's more than three times what she makes in prize money.

Williams, winner of 16 Grand Slams, makes only $12 million annually in endorsements. That's still more than she earns in prize money.  

Li Na, winner of one Grand Slam, earns $15 million annually in endorsements. Much of that is due to her appeal to the Chinese market. Still, she has more endorsement power than Djokovic.

Caroline Wozniacki, the former No. 1 player, has no Grand Slams but earns $11 million annually. She has a dozen endorsement deals and is launching a new underwear line.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Caroline Wozniacki promotes the Stella McCartney Adidas line of clothing.

Meanwhile, she has slipped to No.9 in the WTA rankings.

That's the Kournikova effect. Too many female tennis players are perfecting their spokesmodel pitches and not their serves.

Numerous double faults in matches among Top Five players are far too common.

This year we saw a 48-shot moonball rally between two Top 10 players.  

Kournikova's success off the court established a way for female tennis players to become wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. 

Sometimes it seems the richer they get, the poorer they play the game.  

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