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Saturday, December 18, 2004


Anna Kournikova

Times change. It is a naked truism and one of the sacred, original platitudes. So how come, when it comes to dealing with someone like Anna Kournikova, the 21-year-old Russian born-and-bred tennis player and self-styled vamp of the WTA tour, so few people seem to recognize the meaning of the phrase?
Critics -- most noticeably and volubly those in the media -- have had a huge problem with the fact that Kournikova became a woman with a past before she had, in their eyes, established herself as a girl with a future in tennis. While Kournikova still had yet to earn her first WTA tour singles title by the summer of 2002, she already was ranked as the most photographed woman on the planet (summer of 2000) and the Lolita-esque Queen of cyberspace, garnering more hits to more Web sites than any other female athlete. By the time Kournikova was 18, she had endorsement contracts that were worth millions, plugging everything from tennis clothes to bras to luxury watches. And to make matters even more provocative, even before Kournikova reached the age of consent, she was romantically and sensationally linked with NHL star Sergei Fedorov, a fellow Russian.
There also was an ad campaign, featuring a seductive-looking Kournikova in a screaming red dress on a beach, shilling for a dot-com giant. Such visions of Anna have led almost all of the enlightened, politically-and-athletically-correct pundits to scratch their heads and wonder, "Title IX, Ms. Magazine, Billie Jean King -- all for this?"
It seems a bitter blow indeed, but times change. Kournikova is of the post-feminist generation, one more likely to take its cues from MTV, Madonna and Camille Paglia than Ms. She also is of a realistic generation, and in a world in which sex sells -- no matter what anyone has said or done so far -- she has what the market wants. Having grown up relatively poor in a confused and desolate place (post-Soviet Russia), she is more than glad to exploit her natural gifts for personal gain ...
Although Kournikova may still be searching for her first singles title, you know what? A boatload of journeywomen have at least one singles title -- but little else -- to their credit. Slovenia's Tina Pisnik -- career-high singles ranking somewhere in the 50s -- has won a singles title. So the fact that Kournikova has not won a title is less a telling fact than a weird aberration. So deal with it. It's a good idea, kind of like dealing with the notion that times change.

Anna Kournikova Photos


(by Peter Bodo special to ESPN.com)

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