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Esquire Interview

June 2000




SHE has the face of an angel, the body of a model and a bank balance which runs into millions. But teenage tennis beauty Anna Kournikova is chasing something money and glamour cannot buy: her first senior singles title. The much-photographed young Russian is fed up of locker-room jibes from rival players that she has made it purely on her looks. And that's why Anna - who earns far more off the court than on it - is adamant she will prove her critics wrong at Wimbledon later this month.

about the way she's portrayed in the media and recognized by the public:
Anna: "It's not my fault, the way I look. Yes, it's nice to have some of the attention I have, but I want to be known first and foremost as a great tennis player. People form their opinions by seeing me on magazine covers and reading about me. I read about me, too, and sometimes I appear as if I've come from another planet, or I'm learning about a twin sister. But they don't see me practising and training six hours a day. They don't see me after I've lost a match - when, if I've played poorly, I'm seriously bad news for at least an hour. If I were someone else, I wouldn't want to talk to me after a defeat. I can't change, and I won't change. People misunderstand what I'm about. I'm just being me. Every time I do anything, it's translated as attention-seeking. If I change my hair, it's because I want to. I don't sit down and plan it all out, you know. If I bend down to pick up a ball, I'm accused of showing off my butt. You know, if I decided to take off my clothes there wouldn't be any scheme behind it."

About the male fans who scream like schoolboys at a pop concert when she walks on court:
Anna: "It's like a menu. they can look, but they can't afford it. I don't mind at all. It's good that they're watching tennis and not out on the street."

Is it hard to be with her?:
Anna: "Boyfriends have to understand me and my needs. They need to know what I want out of my life, and about my strict regime. People don't see me having a drink at midnight, because I don't drink alcohol. I go to bed at 10pm, and I shower four times a day after training and matches. Any boyfriend must understand that I separate my professional and private lives. Tennis has been my whole life since before I can remember, and it still is. I can understand that some people would find it hard with me."

what does she look for in a man?:
Anna: "Oh, just being themselves. And to have lots of money! No, no, I'm only joking. I like a sense of humour, and I prefer people who are not shy. I am not a shy person, you see."

career goals - the elusive first Singles Title:
Anna: "I know I can achieve a great deal more than I have. I can feel it in my bones. I know exactly what I can do. Don't forget, it took Steffi Graf four years to win her first title. I am not being stupid. I keep my aims high, but realistic. In 2000 I want to make the top five in the world rankings and win some tournaments. Maybe then more people will understand what I am truly about. What do you think I was doing at the age of six, and seven, and eight? You think I was saying to myself: 'One day I'll be a famous model and have lots of endorsements'? Of course not. I just wanted to play tennis. And you know something? That's still all I really want to do. That's why I have worked so hard already. I've reached a Wimbledon semi-final, but people think tennis is not so important to me. Are they crazy? I'm 19, and I'm very much on course."

About the Schwab commercial and reinforcing a more serious image:
Anna: "I've just done a commercial in the United States where I talk about stocks, shares and bonds. Everyone is amazed. They ask: 'You really know about that stuff, or did you just learn it for the commercial'? And I tell them that I wouldn't do it unless I understood and had an interest in the subject. It would look terrible, wouldn't it, if I got paid for talking about something I knew nothing about? You see, it's important that intelligence comes across. My father is a professor, after all. This world believes that all blondes are stupid and brunettes are smarter. Well, I disagree. You shouldn't judge me by the way I look. You can't fit us all on to the same page in life."

About Wimbledon and the huge curiosity of the british tabloids:
Anna: "It can get a little crazy, sure. I like playing on grass, the atmosphere, and English people are very friendly to me. It's just that some people want to know everything. I am always asked: 'Who is your boyfriend'? Seven times, I said: 'No comment' last year in one press conference. And they still asked."





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