Russian superstar Anna Kournikova burst onto the tennis scene in the late 1990s. She may never have taken a singles title, but in 2000, aged 18, she reached the number eight slot in the international women’s game.
Star in the making
Kournikova made her debut in 1996 when, aged a mere 14, she played for Russia at the Fed Cup – and was named the WTA Newcomer of the Year.
Kournikova’s best Grand Slam performance was the following year, in 1997, when she reached the Wimbledon women’s singles semi-finals. She’s still the youngest ever Wimbledon semi-finalist, although she lost the match to eventual championships winner Martina Hingis. She also became only the second female in the open era to play in the semis during her Wimbledon debut.
Make it a doubles
It was when she partnered with Hingis for doubles matches that Kournikova achieved her greatest successes. Kournikova’s playing style and height suited the doubles game. Referring to themselves as the ‘Spice Girls of tennis’, the pair took Grand Slam titles in Australia in both 1999 and 2002.
Unfortunately, back and spinal issues brought a premature end to Kournikova’s playing career when she was still only 21, by which time she had won $3.5m on the WTA circuit. She’d been a driving force within the women’s game, taking it to new audiences and acquiring a strong celebrity status off and on the court. She still plays occasional exhibition matches.
With her supermodel looks, Kournikova was once one of the most searched-for names on Google.
Her following was so big that an ‘Anna Kournikova’ computer virus spread in 2001, in emails purporting to include images of her. The bug was even mentioned in a Friends episode.
Off court, Kournikova has been one of the most marketable sportswomen ever, landing numerous sponsorships worth millions. In 2000, she became the face for Berlei shock absorber sports bras, appearing in a billboard campaign under the slogan ‘Only the ball should bounce.’ The same year saw the star embark on a partnership with Omega watches as an ambassador for the brand’s New Constellation Carré line-up of women’s watches.
In 2002, she starred in an Adidas campaign alongside David Beckham and Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, promoting a range.
Other duties have seen her acting as a Global Ambassador for Population Services International, addressing health issues facing children under five, and appearing as a trainer in Season 12 of reality TV show The Biggest Loser in 2010.
Not long into the millennium, the tennis ace began dating music star and self-styled King of Latin Pop Enrique Iglesias. Kournikova has never officially confirmed or denied the status of this or any other personal relationship, but, in 2008, Iglesias told a newspaper the couple had married the year before.
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