end of May 2006
You disappeared from spotlight. What are you doing lately?
Anna: "This June is 3 years since I stopped playing. It was interesting adjustment period and it still continues. I was scared and curious at the same time, wanted to try things I could only dream about. That's how I spent last 3 years. For 15 years tennis was my life. Nowadays I'm mostly doing charity work - working with kids at Boys and Girls Club, the biggest youth organization in USA. Telling them about sports, healthy living, how important is to exercise instead of sitting in front of TV. Mostly working with girls: they need confidence and sports help that. That's my main direction, but I'm also playing in matches for charity, exhibitions and WTT. Simply for myself: I miss the game... What else? Working on fitness DVD for women. For many years I worked on my fitness, know every exercise and want to share my knowledge."
In other words, you are having fun.
Anna: "Of course. Mostly - yes. No more... how to say it - "cut-throat"?"
You mean pressure?
Anna: "No, pressure is something else. I never felt outside pressure. I pressured myself hard enough. Still do. Of course, my main career is on break, but as a human I have other targets, want to become somebody. I can't just sit on the beach. I'm very energetic... Even hyperactive. My inner engine never stops. It's just now I can choose [to do] what I like. Things that bring me satisfaction. I think it's very important: If you do something, it should come from your soul."
So, you don't miss fame, media hype, scandals?
Anna: "Honestly - no. When it was happening I didn't realize it was something extraordinary. I didn't become famous overnight: I was a kid when it all started. Seeing my name in newspaper or on TV was not something exciting, but rather routine. I didn't know better."
But now you know the difference.
Anna: "I'd say, now I'm in control of my life. I can go, where I know people are interested in me. Or I don't have to go. I have a choice now. Sometimes I look at my past like it didn't happen to me: 'Wow! How interesting!'"
You sound like a mature woman...
Anna: "Yeah, right."
You are only 25, still a girl. Don't you still want to set it on fire?
Anna: "Set what on fire?"
For example, camera lights.
Anna: "What can I say... Of course I want to reach new heights, but in other areas. I want to grow, be successful. At the same time, after 15 years of tennis, I want a quite life."
Well, lets review your career. For starters, you opened the image of Russian woman for America. Russian sports woman. Not surprisingly, when new successful and pretty tennis girl appears she is instantly dubbed "second Kournikova". For example, that's what happened to Maria Sharapova at the beginning of her career.
Anna: "It's wrong. Girls deserve to be known as themselves. Nobody wants to be a "second somebody". They work so much, give up a lot... It's unfair to them."
Understood: the press is rarely just. But you have to agree you were some kind of a pioneer.
Anna: "No. Here it's called 'to be in a right place at right time.'"
But your name actually became a symbol. What do you feel when you see other girls continuing what you started?
Anna: "I'm happy for them. Keep going, girls! Women's tennis keeps getting better and nobody is surprised anymore that you can be successful and hardworking and beautiful and feminine at the same time. Girls work as much as men. Even more: it's more difficult for us to stay in shape and avoid injuries. Sports is always a hell of work. It only looks like our life is all "glamour": London, Paris, Melbourne... In reality we don't see much besides hotels, courts and gyms. And even if we see something else, we are so tired it becomes irrelevant. I'm taking my hat off for tennis girls [don't know how to translate it correctly]."
Back then it look like you liked that life very much:
Anna: "I was young (laughing). Didn't care about anything. Now I think more about what I'm doing and what's going on around. Of course I liked it a lot: play, just be there. But now, if I had a second chance, I would have been more rationale. I'd take a chance to stop, look around, try to better understand what's happening. I think that's what everybody thinks about their youth."
Please tell a little more about injuries forcing you to end your [tennis] career. You had to stop playing because of injuries, right?
Anna: "Yes. Initially I had stress fractures in my feet. Three of them."
You mean your foot kept breaking again and again?
Anna: "Actually it happened in different places. Twice in one foot and once in another. Here, look [Anna takes off a shoe and shows a visible scar under a little toe]: Two other fractures healed good, but not this one. I had to get a titanic plate inserted, and it's still there."
Is it very uncomfortable?
Anna: "Not anymore. I don't even feel it."
Why do stress fractures happen?
Anna: "Mostly from overworking. Practising too much."
What happened to your back?
Anna: "Doctor said it's because of foot fracture. Subconcsiouly I started to save it [from stress]. As a result my posture changed, then all of a sudden my back started hurting. Turned out, some bones in [some joint - don't know how to translate it] moved."
So, at 25 you got a chronic pain in your backbone?
Anna: "Nothing scary, does not bother me in everyday life: I still can work out for about an hour, run, jump, play a little tennis - no problem at all. But do it professionally - 4-5 hours training daily, I can't anymore. The bone gets displaced right away and I have to get back to physiotherapy."
It means you'll never return to a professional tennis?
Anna: "For now - yes, but I'm not going to say it's a final decision. I think if you said you were leaving, then leave. I don't like when somebody announces retirement then suddenly returns. I'm not ready to say my career is finished. Only when I finally decide it - I'll announce it."
You said fractures were the result of overworking. Do you mean the golden girl of tennis was a training freak [it actually says fan]?
Anna: "I followed the routine I knew. First coaches told me what to do, then I decided if I trained more I'd feel more comfortable [on court]. Naturally, I don't want to blame anyone. But there was just too much training. Probably, from about 18 I should've started working on other elements: concentrate on quality. I mean game, tactics, psychology. But I kept having lengthy training every day. At certain level, say - Top 20, everybody is at pretty similar physical conditions. Everybody can hit the ball hard. That's when mentality decides the outcome. Psychology."
What were your strong and weak elements?
Anna: "Pluses - speed, vision of court, anticipation, good hands - I felt the ball and could do anything with it (sometimes even too much). I always had so many [game] choices I often could not decide what to do: drop, slice, spin, this, that... My biggest minus - I was not patient. I had this problem both on court and in everyday life. Let me repeat, I never worked enough on psychological aspect of the game, tactics. During training I would make 1000 hits instead of, say, 300 hits and couple hours of tactics."
In connection with what you just said I want to recall both finals you've lost. For example, Miami, when you've lost an almost certain win against Venus Williams.
Anna: "No, there I just ran out of gas. I had to play 5 days in a row because of rain delays. And I had to play against (in order): Lucic, Seles, Martinez, Sanchez, Davenport and, finally, Williams. If you look at pictures from that final you'd see how hard it was for me. I was already the thinnest girl there, and the weather during final was very hot. I won one set - and that was it."
What about Wimbledon semifinal at 16?
Anna: "Hingis simply outplayed me. She was much better. She started to play at earlier age, had more experience and, put together, was a better player."
Were these two "almost wins" the highlights of your career?
Anna: "From your point of view maybe. To me, the best were some specific matches. For example, when I beat Hingis, number one in the world at the time. Or wins against Graff, Davenport, Sanchez - also number ones. My first win over Seles, my idol, fullfilled my biggest dream. I was satisfied most, when I could prove myself in that particular match I'm better than a great tennis player I'm playing against."
But to win a tournament it was not enough.
Anna: "For some reason I could never do that: To play one-two weeks on the same level. I cared too much about "right now". One-on-one fight was everything to me. Never thought about tactics for the next game. That brought me down: I could win against Hingis one day, but could not move on the court the next day."
All your ups and downs in tennis could not shadow your amazingly successful career of media star [diva?].
Anna: "All of this - recognition, popularity outside tennis - partially were the product of my nature. I always was outgoing, daring [girl], liked to be in the middle of attention. Even as a kid, at 5, was a [class] clown. Entertained everybody, could not sit still. Always liked to command."
Anna: "I remember in pre-K other kids were crying or lazy, but Anya comes in, all big and important, helps everybody to dress and tie shoelaces. Liked to take patronage [of other kids]. How would you call such girl?"
Anna: "Exactly! This is it! Some Nyurka [deriv. from Anna/Anka]... That's who I grew up. And it just came naturally, I was never looking for popularity outside of tennis. Tennis was always the most important [thing] for me. The rest came later and was mostly created by press [media]. All that sensations. I, mostly, just swam by the stream and played along."
Yes - we are nasty, but ...
Anna: "Not at all, I respect journalists very much! And today I'm looking at press differently. Whatever you write, critical or not, is mostly correct. It's just sometimes athletes do not want to hear or read anything critical and they are strongly against it. But there is one thing press has to understand. While we are actively competing we can't tell everything to everybody. We can't expose everything, feelings, weaknesses. Players always want to look strong, create an image of invincibility in front of competitors and fans. Only now I can sit here unveiling all my "terrible secrets", but back then, when I was still playing, I did not want people discussing who I live with, etc."
But you just said you were playing along. You liked it.
Anna: "Not really..."
But excuse me - you did play along, and very profesionally, too.
Anna: "And again you didn't understand it. That's why you always are going to say "second Kournikova" and nonsense like that. Nobody wants to believe that everything I did was not planned beforehand. Do you seriously think I was like: "OK, I'm going to say such and such at the press-conference, tomorrow they will write about it and I'll get a new contract or sell a new Kournikova Barbie doll"? You can't plan things like that. You either have it or not."
You mean all that expressions were a total improvisation? "My skirt is not short, I just have long legs", "I'm like a menu in an expensive restaurant: everyone can look, but not everyone can afford"?
Anna: "I'm so ashamed now I could say something like that. My God! I remember about skirt, because I have it on tape, but menu thing... Don't even remember when it was. This is so funny! Tell me, how can you plan something like that?"
Why are you ashamed?
Anna: "No, I didn't say it correctly. I mean, today I'd rather hide under the table than say something like that. Back then it was funny. I was so frank. All that was by instinct. That's why there is never going to be "second Kournikova" - it's not a science, just a part of my character. So please, call girls by their own names."
But, what's interesting, exactly this [non-tennis] part of your image was responsible for 90 percent of your popularity. Of course you were in Top 10, but there also were 9 more girls there, who weren't even close to you in terms of fame. Your "personal aspect", secrets of your private life and your expressions were important part of your success and financial well-being.
Anna: "Absolutely right."
Honestly, did you like it more than tennis itself?
Anna: "All that was happening outside of tennis and even without my participation. For example, sometimes I had to rest for up to 3 months a year because of injuries, but popularity stayed the same. Of course I liked it, but ... I don't know. I'm sure people on the street would still recognize me as a tennis player."
How can't 17 year-old girl like the fact all the world loves her?
Anna: "You can't look at it this way. If I thought like this, I would went crazy. It's like a death [sentence] when you say to yourself: "Everybody loves me! I'm ideal!" On the contrary, I always tried to find imperfections, something bad in myself, something I could improve. To stay a normal person you should be able to separate important from non-important. Of course, I'm glad that my fans love me and think I'm the best or the most beautiful, but in the end - it's all superficial. I can sit and pray Michael Jackson, but in reality I don't know him."
How about the other side of fame? Many of your colleagues thought you were full of it [not really sure how to translate "zaznayka"]. Remember how Davenport once said: "No one of us wants to lose to Anna. Never". Didn't it bother you?
Anna: "No. I always had good relations with Davenport. I think press makes too much noise out of nothing. Someone behind the scene wanted to create a conflict. Of course, you can't be best friends with all 32 players in tournament, but I wouldn't say I was "zaznayka" [magic word again]. Sometimes I played it safe, cool, kept the distance. But you should understand - it was difficult time for me. Young, pretty, popular girl, who didn't understand a thing about what was happening. I travelled with Mom, who was also young, pretty and didn't understand anything either. Tennis is like show business, everybody wants a piece of cake. You just can't let anybody near, they'll eat you alive. You are trying to keep the distance, be careful - and all of a sudden you are bad."
Well-known image. On one side: bold statements, catchy phrases driving journalists mad. On the other - secrecy, estrangement, attempts to separate tennis life from private.
Anna: "Yes, and that was right [thing to do]. I always will have it this way. If someone wants to scream about their private life from the roof - it's their right. I don't even want to talk about it, even though I know - when there is no information at all, someone will make something up. But I'll sleep better knowing it's fiction, not something I actually said. Private life is already difficult by itself, even for people who don't have it discussed worldwide."
Yours was discussed plenty. So here is the question. You state that you never planned anything in advance. Does it apply to headlines like "Anna was seen with new boyfriend today", showing up almost monthly?
Anna: "Of course! Life was going on, I made appearances, spent time with friends. I'm not going to limit my daily interaction to same people. I had a lot of friends I met with. Does not mean they all were my boyfriends. Press just needed to make up something catchy every day."
Anna, if you don't mind, I'd like to tell you how, in the middle of all above mentioned, your gradual retirement looked from the side. At least, from my side. During our conversation you mostly destroyed the logic I put behind it, now try to kill it for good.
Anna: "OK, let's go ..."
So, my conclusion was: at some point you decided it didn't make sense to further destroy your beautiful young body [Anna laughs], and instead of chasing that title with chances decreasing every day [Anna laughs again] it would be better...
Anna: "...relax on the beach, smoke a cigar and drink pina-colada! And spend time with my fine boyfriend, who also is a pop-star."
or, in other words: it was easier to stay famous other ways...
Anna: "And why do I need such fame? What am I going to do with it? Sleep with it? Today you are popular, tomorrow - not!"
Such a feeling like vanity still exists, you can't underestimate it.
Anna: "You know what's better than vanity? It's when you know you woke up today went somewhere and did something you are happy with. You did not waste that day of your life. That's what matters. What is vanity good for? It's like sitting on the cloud. I don't see a point in living like this. Still many people do not understand it and say I cared not about sport, but the fame that came with it. Anyway, public opinion is almost always unfair. Look at Pete Sampras! One of the all-time greatest players. You know what press didn't like about him? He was boring, they said. He was a "bad ambassador" of the game. So, what do people need: great results or great personality?"
Lets talk about something that really bothers our readers. It's about your status of "citizen of the World". You have a Russian passport, your fans are everywhere on the planet, you live in USA. Sharapova is in the same situation. In USA you both are considered Russians, in Russia - it's not as simple. Many think of you both as americanized babes, who forgot their country. What are your actual relations with homeland?
Anna: "In my mind I was always Russian and always will be, no doubt. It applies to both upbringing and the way I look at the world. My parents are 100 percent Russians. I was brought up with Russian culture and I always feel it. I often conflict with American mentality. As to love/hate relation with Russians, it's pretty common in America, too. It's much easier to dislike your own - emotions are much stronger. It's like with kids: you'd disagree with your own parents, but listen to a total stranger."
What are your conflicts with American mentality? You seem to feel very comfortable in so very American Miami. Even, having some problems speaking Russian.
Anna: "8Laughing] It's just because lately I rarely speak Russian. Before this interview I haven't spoken Russian in a week. Give me a little time to practice - and all problems will disappear. What "being Russian" means ... The way you think, the way you see people, how you set priorities. For example, such a small thing, who has to open the door. There is a lot of feminism and such here, but our brains work differently."
So what's the result? "Enrique, go open the door for me?"
Anna: "[Laughing] No, it has nothing to do with Enrique, it's just an example. World view differs between cultures. Americans think more about themselves, their business. While we Russians are used to pay more attention to people surrounding us. For example, in Russian families it's normal to keep a box of candies just in case unexpected guests will show up. Here [in US] nobody even thinks about it."
It was interesting to hear from you a little dig against feminism. Whether you wanted or not, you did a lot to promote a very feministic image of bold, independent, strong girl, who does not care about other people opinion.
Anna: "But deep inside I'm still a Russian girl, who wants not only respect to her personality, but also wants to be cherished. Man, in my opinion, still has to be a head of family, has to court his woman."
So, does it work for you?
Anna: "We are working on it [smiling]."
Doesn't it hurt your ego that lately people think of you not like as sports star, but girlfriend of Enrique Iglesias?
Anna: "No, I know what I achieved. It's not even about tennis, but self-improvement overall. If people tend to low my achievements, it's because they don't see the whole picture. And Enrique... I like that he is a frontman in our couple. It's also a part of Russian mentality: A man should be a leader. It works very well for us. It's difficult for two celebrities to be together: the fight between egos starts right away. I prefer to stay in background, support him."
Let's get back to Russian theme. Would you like to get more acceptance from Russians, somehow?
Anna: "You know, it's impossible to be loved by everybody. Some people in Russia like me, some - not, let them think what they want. I'm not looking for global acceptance, it's more important for me what I and my close friends think about myself. Also, my time has passed. Other people are in limelight now."
Now that's self-sufficiency - part of American mentality. "If I'm happy about myself, you can think anything you want about me."
Anna: "No, it's not America, it's me. I was always like that, from childhood. Looks like I really have some mentality mix. It seems to me I think too much and talk too much. But often something interesting comes out of it. Life drama."
When was your last time in Russia?
Anna: "In February. I'm home 3-4 times a year. My grandma lives there, my first coach Larisa Preobrazhensky. Visit them for a few days, on weekend."
People recognize you on the street?
Anna: "[Blushing] I don't walk on the street."
Why were you blushing?
Anna: "I think people have other problems, besides looking at me. When I'm there I live in hotel, drive to grandma's house. Come-and-go. Don't hang out, don't walk on boulevards. Nobody even knows I'm there. Everything is very private. Lately, grandma visits me here [in Miami], dad brings her over...One more thing about relations with homeland. I always played for the National Team - and never forget that my first official match, at 14, I won in Federation Cup, playing for Russia. Became the youngest player ever to win a match in Federation Cup. Also played for Russia in Olympic Games."
Do you have any cultural connections with Russia or it's all American now?
Anna: "Depends on what you mean. I don't care about politics. But books and movies - yes. Dad brings over some movies. As to books, I prefer classics - Pushkin, "Master and Margarita" [Bulgakov], "War and Peace"."
Not surprising your back hurts - these are heavy books.
Anna: "I only read Russian classics. From American books - normally pulp fiction [she says "beach reading"]"
Still care about hockey?
Anna: "I never really cared much about it. Went to games only in Detroit, never here."
Exclusively to watch Sergei Fedorov?
Anna: "Who else [laughing]?"
Well ... for example, Hasek played there.
Anna: "Who's that?"
Sorry. Forget about it.
Anna: "Here, starting last season we got addicted by basketball. "Miami Heat". That was great! We went there, we supported them and they became champions! I liked it a lot. Hockey arena is too far from here, and team is not very good, not many fans there."
Looking back, do you regret about anything?
Anna: "I would want to stay healthier. It was possible to prevent all these injuries: just change training, plan calendar better. I could, probably, still play. But it was really difficult to do back then. Me and Mom were dilettantes in these things. Forward-forward, faster-faster, it'll be too late tomorrow ..."
What else would you change?
Anna: "Everything in my life is perfect. Just think: I came from one-room apartment from nowhere, became financially independent and managed to stay myself."
Could you avoid media buzz about your private life? I'm talking about countless publications about your relations with Sergei Fedorov and Pavel Bure.
Anna: "It never bothered me."
But what Sergei told about your marriage supposedly affected your business interests.
Anna: "I'm not going to discuss it. I always loved Sergei, still do. He is a great person and that's all I'm going to tell you. I don't like gossiping, there are very few people who really know what happened. The rest only think they know. Lets leave it the way it is. This chapter of my life is closed."
Same applies to Pavel?
Anna: "Exactly the same. No regrets whatsoever. Everything we had together was good, even things that were bad. You learn on things like that."
Are you happy today?
Anna: "In what part of my life? Mostly - yes. For example, I'm mostly healthy. I can set my own goals and just go for them. I'm surrounded by people I trust to. Can make my own decisions, right or wrong. I'm an adult, finally. Never again want to be 18 [years old]. Nothing changed in my character, but I learned to manage it. Learned to reason and explain myself. Didn't know how to do it before, and honestly nobody was interested in that."
For today, what's the biggest achievement in your life?
Anna: "I have a goal in my life, I understand exactly who I want to be and what I can improve. I can honestly say: I went through a lot but stayed a normal person."
thanks to igost and "romania" for translation
Find out more at Anna's offical website: