To understand who Anna Kournikova is, you have to understand who Anna Kournikova was. Of course, I've probably never even been in the same state as Kournikova, so I'm not qualified to give you any insight there.
But what I can do is talk about how the public persona of Anna K. changed throughout the years, namely by outlining the various ways her sex appeal has been used to sell magazines and products.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's our generation's version of the character study—the evolution of a persona. A persona in a bikini, I should add.
Pour yourself a glass of Franzia, and let's begin.
Here we see Anna's lovely countenance in the year 2000 at the WTA Awards, the year she achieved her highest singles ranking, No. 8 in the world. The year prior, she won one of her two Australian Open doubles titles (her only Grand Slam titles in either singles or doubles) with partner Martina Hingis.
It was the culmination of a more innocent time, when she was a highly-regarded young tennis player who some noticed—in hushed tones behind closed doors, of course—was quite attractive.
And thus begins our tale.
Yes, she was. Though even when she was a tennis player, she wasn't being covered as just a tennis player.
There are a lot of angles one can photograph a tennis player from, after all.
Soon enough, the "tennis" qualifier would start to lose its relevance, and the "sexy" qualifier would take hold.
Let's take a look at this photograph from the year 2000, when Kournikova began endorsing for Berlei.
I think it is important to note that the image of Kournikova modeling the Berlei shock absorber sports bras is larger in this photograph than Kournikova is herself.
We'll go ahead and call that a motif.
Here we see Anna modeling for Adidas in 2003, perhaps beginning the transformation from tennis player to sex symbol.
Two things are leading me to this conclusion: One, her tennis career basically came to an end in 2003.
Two, are you seeing that look on her face? She is oozing "sexy" in this picture, and she's just modeling for Adidas. We haven't even gotten to the magazines yet.
Oh, Anna—how your gaze has transfixed a generation of young men.
Listen, I'm not going to get lost in the rumors game here, but the following should be noted: Kournikova was rumored to be in relationships with hockey players Pavel Bure and Sergei Fedorov, and may or may not have been engaged to either one of them.
I'm not sure why that matters, except to point out that when it comes to Miss Kournikova, what we think we know is probably never as close to reality as we want that reality to be.
Or something like that.
Here, Kournikova attends the 2003 World Music Awards, dressed to the nines in a gown that would make the most composed and sophisticated man's tongue unroll out of his mouth in the manner of a Looney Toons character.
She's versatile, folks. She can do sporting wear, sports bras, glamorous gowns or, as we'll soon see, the bikini.
I'm fairly certain she appeared in FHM 147 different times. I can't verify that number, but it's probably completely accurate. Or at least sort of close to being slightly accurate.
Just watch the video. It will show you everything you want to know about Miss Kournikova.
Well, you probably don't want Anna doing it. Who knows how well she handles a razor?
But hey, she looks good lathering this fella up for a Gillette promotion in 2004, doesn't she? That's a little something I like to call faux-functional beauty.
(I literally just made that term up seconds before typing this slide.)
If advertisements could talk:
Look, sneakers! Hey fella, did you notice the sneakers!
Dude, there are sneakers on this picture, too... Oh, who am I kidding? You aren't looking at the sneakers. I'm just hoping you saw the name of the brand, K-Swiss, when you flipped to this advertisement and stopped to stare at Anna K.
That's all I can really ask for.
The cover for this Maxim issue noted the following:
"Finally! Earth's Hottest Girl Goes Way Over the Line. Anna Kournikova!"
At this point, we've pretty much reached the "Let's just put Anna K. in a situation that in no discernible way relates to her previous tennis career, but hey, doesn't she look exotic in this picture?"
The sex symbol has consumed the persona.
Oh, who are we kidding? There are probably a lot of women out there who want her too.
That's the power of Anna K.—universal, constant appeal. Her presence is comforting, somehow, as though if we let go of her, we also let go of some of those childhood fantasies we've yet to realize...
...Sorry, I blacked out for a second there. I didn't type anything weird, did I?
This time, we're at the 2005 World Music Awards. And look at Kournikova, so much more coy this time around.
What time is it? she appears to be asking. Time for a lesser-known sex symbol to attract attention with a lavish gown, she answers with this outfit.
I'm just here to appear in a few photographs and pretend like I'm not bored to tears during the awards show. It's no biggie, just the life I lead now.
Did you get all the pictures you need yet?
This is Anna's fashion-conscious look, complete with a little bit of cleavage and the hint of a bare midriff alongside the tautly-pulled hair and dark colors, all of which give off this vibe that seem to remind men that they should want to respect her.
She sported this little number at the Y-3 Spring 2006 fashion show.
Also, in no way, shape or form should you ever pay any mind to my evaluations of fashion. I wear sweatshirts, like, 93 percent of the time.
Wouldn't they make the perfect couple?
He's the rapper that everyone is entertained by and doesn't take too seriously, which has allowed him to maintain street cred despite the fact that he has totally sold out.
She's the sex symbol whose fame out shined her game, and power to her, she took advantage of that backup plan.
How are they not the perfect couple?
Oh, right—she's already got a musician boo.
I hold by my contention that she and Snoop are perfect for one another.
Well, at least she appears to be in this picture. Even sitting in a chair wearing an over-sized sweater, she holds a strange power over all of us.
You do you, Anna. Haters gonna hate, but you're far from the last human being to sell sex appeal. You just fit into a unique niche—young sports fans who have aged with you—and turned that into a lucrative career.
It's one and done for her on the show, however. As a "source" close to her told People, "The show just wasn't the right fit for her."
But what is the right fit for Anna?
Tennis player? Product endorser? Sex symbol? Reality star?
She's 30, and I'm not sure we quite understand what exactly Anna Kournikova means to us, or why she is still a part of our lives. But she is. And a lot of people now despise her for that fact.
But maybe it doesn't matter what she is. Maybe, like any other fantasy we might have, it only matters what we want her to be.
When she was a thriving tennis player, she also had to be a hot tennis player, because that's really what intrigued us about her, especially when she turned 18 and the public could finally let out a collective, "Good god she's hot, and it isn't inappropriate to admit it now."
When she was no longer a tennis player but just a sex symbol, we needed to point out that her fame had drastically surpassed her game to conceal our jealousy over the fact that she was not only better at tennis than most of us would ever be at anything else, but her natural beauty also allowed her a lucrative backup career once her playing days were over.
To borrow from Eminem, Anna is whatever we say she is. And that says a whole lot more about us than it does about her.