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Interview for german magazine "Der Spiegel" in New York

August 26, 2009



"All have been tearing me"

The former tennisplayer A.K. about early success, quick earned money, her life as global advertising icon and the sight on her sweaty belly-button.

Ms. Kournikova, you're not supposed to have much to do now or not?
Anna: "The opposite is the case, my schedule is full. And I should actually do anything, I could lie all day on the beach. I won't do that. I work for example as an ambassador for a big youth organisation in the United States. And I was in Haiti for a health organisation [PSI], were I had been distributing mosquito nets and condoms. But tell me: How do you come to the conclusion that I have much spare time?"

Really simple: About nine years ago we had asked you already for an interview, back then we had send you lots of faxes, your management wanted to know if it would be a headliner, if we would announce your sponsors in the article, we should send all our questions in advance. So on this way the interview never concluded. This time we just needed one e-mail to get a schedule with you, without conditions.
Anna: "I was a tennis professional, that's a 24-hour job. It was impossible for me to meet all demands for an interview. And I was just 19 years old. Other things were more important to me. When can I train? Which number is my hotel room? When there is food? Who do I play? When I get a massage? When I knew all that, I was lucky and satisfied."

And today?
Anna: "It's another way. I have grown older, even mature. At that time my advisors had been protecting me, therefore I became reputated to be arrogant for many journalists. In the meanwhile I am my own chief, I am involved to all the things concerning me, I decide, I get myself in. It gets often to my ears: "It's unbelievable how much you have changed". What do they think anyway? People develope themselves. It would be awful if I would still act like a teenager."

No other sports women of the world got more payed than you back then...
Anna: "...and I was doing a hard job for that. But I haven't earned that huge money anyway."

Oh well! Just in 1999 it were 14 million dollars, and it is told, before your 18th birthday you would have cashed already 50 million only with advertisings.
Anna: "Where is the problem? I was in a position, where I had the possibilities to represent diverse companies. And I have used this opportunity."

There was no other woman, who has been so much photographed as you, your face was seen on the title of "Cosmopolitan", on the cover of "Esquire" and "Forbes". There was no other sports women who got more downloaded pictures of the net. There have been more than 20,000 pages on the internet, that have been dedicated to you, they were called "Anna at the Temple of the Babes", "Upskirts Anna" or even "The Annamaniacs Page"...
Anna: "! I guess it would have been many more sites, but anyway, it's pretty crazy and quite funny."

Tournament organizers were selling more tickets when you were playing, fans were beating up for your wet towels, in Wimbledon there jumped an admirer on the court and ran a respectable round around your chair. And at the Australian Open an admirer held up a banner with the slogan: "And on the seventh day God created Anna K.". Have you ever understood the fuss about your person?
Anna: "I had never spend a thought about it, everything came to me entirely normal, pretty naturally. I was ten when I came to America, I went to the Tennis Academy of Nick Bolletieri in Florida. Quite in the same year there appeared an article about me in the "New York Times". From then on I was standing nonstop in the spotlight. I didn't know it differently."

And how do you judge this hype, if you look back now?
Anna: "It gets all weird. But not weird in a crazy kind, more in a cool."

When did you first recognize, which worth your look has as athlete?
Anna: "I didn't recognize it at all. I am not that special."

So what caused the hype?
Anna: "I guess I was at the right time at the right place. I was active in a time when women sports, even more women tennis got more popular, the economy boomed, the internet was growing faster and gave the marketers new opportunities. And then there was this young girl, which had grown up in the Soviet Union, spoke fluently English and could hit the ball properly."

You have been the first pin-up girl of sports, but you have never won a professional singles tournament. Are you the most unsucceeded superstar of all times?
Anna: "There are hundred thousands pretty girls, but how much of them play professional tennis? And there are hundreds, no, not hundreds, more dozens pretty girls, who play professional tennis, but how much of them are as good as me, as I have been? If I had been number 50 or 100 of the world ranking I would have never get that attention."

Did you enjoy your fame or not?
Anna: "Enjoy is the wrong term. To be honest, I really don't know if I had liked the hubbub. It didn't change anyway. Nowadays I am wondering what stuff they wrote about a 15 year old. It is weird. It is creepy. When I see now how the media report about celebs in similar age, like the singer Miley Cyrus, I think: Relax, let her grow, she may do mistakes. And that there are journalists who make sexual innuendo for a 16 year old girl, for a child, I find it outrageous. If I would be my mother, then I would have went to some people and had asked them: What the hell are you doing there?"

But that didn't happen. Have you been determined by others?
Anna: "I often said no if the management wanted something from me. The people think, I would have photoshootings each and every day. Actually it were just two per year. The tournament directors, the reporters and sponsors, all have been tearing me, in every direction: Anna here, Anna there.I would have never coped this alone. I was young and naive, but not determined by others."

When you were 18 you appeared on a banquet of Women's Tennis Association on 6 inch high heels in black netdress and leo-bra. Who got that idea?
Anna: "Mine. No one had told me what to wear."

Maybe you gave the people unconsciously what they wanted to see?
Anna: "No, I was a young lady who liked fashion. At that time everyone was wearing miniskirts - why I shouldn't have done that either? I have seen pictures in fashion magazines that I have liked, therefore I was wearing it. It was fun to make me pretty. And it still does."

You did nothing to keep the hype steaming, to serve the media?
Anna: "Not that I mention it. I never had the time, the energy, the cunning and the experience to get the media exploited. Nowadays I know that I can use journalists, back then I just did what got into my head. I never thought: I wear this dress that everybody can see my legs, so the other morning you can see pictures of me in the papers. Never in my life! Nothing was organized, there was no master plan. We have not set down and thought about which image I should have: Lolita, Femme fatale or Diva."

It was not the most important part on your serve that your shirt slides up and everyone can see your sweaty belly-button?
Anna: "Pardon? That is complete nonsense. These are men's ravings. Anyway, all women on court look the same today."

Because it's part of the business?
Anna: "No, because it's a human body. Why you should hide it, when it isn't necessary? Female Beachvolleyball-players play in bikinis - does it bother anyone? Or take a look at the athletics, the women there are just wearing underwear. No one says: Man, she runs 100 meters and you can see her belly-button."

When you couldn't stop the marketing machine around you - have you ever tried to brake them?
Anna: "It never looked like a machine for me. All what I did was: Play tennis, press conferences, pose for photos here and there. So as they do now Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova and Daniela Hantuchova. Every player in the top 20 does that."

1994 you have said after a defeat versus Martina Hingis:"You've won indeed, but I am prettier and can earn more money than you". Dou you regret that?
Anna: "I don't mention that I have said that. And most crucial is anyway the answer of the question: How exactly do you listen to, if a 13 year old says anything? That's the point, people think about a teenager when they hear your name. And who says no stupid things when he/she's young? What I ask myself today: How can a journalist take a 13 or 16 year old girl seriously? If I listen to a 16 year old girl I think: Haha, let you do the talking!"

Martina Hingis was no media darling, but aged 16 she got to number one of world ranking. The Swiss has won five Grand-Slam-titles. Would you like to change with her?
Anna: "No way. Indeed her career is more than wonderful, she is fantastic, but I wouldn't be the person which I am, when I had not made all the experiences. I am satisfied with myself, I feel comfortable. I have an amazing journey behind me, I know what I have achieved. I grew up in Moscow, in communism, we had a little two room appartement, I played tennis outside at minus 20 degrees centigrade. In the meantime I have travelled every continent, everything achieved, and a real tennisfan knows my results. I was number eight of the world rankings and I have obtained many players that stood on ranking number one: Steffi Graf, Arantxa Sanchez V., Lindsay Davenport, Martina Hingis, Kim Clijsters."

How much does it strain you over your career never winning a single title?
Anna: "When I became older the more pressure I got myself. Sometimes I got unlucky in the finals, sometimes I was injured, sometimes the competetors got a better day. But clearly: I had lost matches that I should have won."

What was the matter?
Anna: "I just can concentrate for a short period of time. That is my big weakness. I have often started a match well and then my thoughts went off - and before I knew what was going on i was in clearly gap. That went on in other things: If I write something, I lose my concentration. I am also very impatient and on the court I missed my rest. I even rip off all my gifts immediately."

Your competetors were sitting in front of a TV in the dressing room and cheered when you had lost. Had this offended you?
Anna: "When you are a public person you always get criticism and envy. To go through this is part of the job. You get a thick skin, but at the end of the day you are also just a human."

Other players accused you would abuse the court as catwalk, your long blonde braid, the kind of your movements. Was the Centre Court your stage?
Anna: "Please, what should I have done: cut my hair off? Have you ever seen me play?"

For sure.
Anna: "And? Was that looking kinda strange? Was it different to what M. Sharapova, V. and S. Williams are doing nowadays?"

Not really.
Anna: "There you go! Here you get your answer."

Can you understand the spitefulness and resentment of the others?
Anna: "They had to say anything. People talk. And if there is nothing to talk about, they tattle. Such is life. Imagine an office, 150 employees - I am sure, they don't get all well together. People should concentrate more on themselves. Look, the women players today, how they moan while beating the ball. They are about to yell. If I had done this, they would have killed me. You have to look at it this way: As long they talk about you they take notice of you."

The Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin, the Japenese Kimiko Date - they all play professional tennis again after long years of persisting break, Clijsters had won the US Open in September. You had competeted your last match on tour in April 2003, but never retired officially. When can we except your comeback?
Anna: "I play regularly, almost every day, doing exo matches and start for World Team Tennis, that's a team competition in America. Now and then I think I should try it again for the professionals. But if so, I want to be in top condition, I had to train daily six hours. I don't know if my body would do that. It is very vulnerable for injuries. I started playing with 5, with 21 I felt the consequences: The feet, the back, the ankle had been wear."

The American Billie Jean King, who has dominated the Women's Tennis at the end of the 60's, beginning of the 70's, said once:"A female tennisplayer and a pretty woman have something in common: They know the best is over when they're still young." Do you look at it the same way?
Anna: "There I have to contradict. If you are old, you are pretty and attractive in another kind. I love it to grow older, you experience a lot about yourself and others, Every year I say on my birthday: Learned again for another year. I like me much more, as I am older, I appreciate me much more. I would never change a cleaner skin, younger look for spiritual development, experience and knowledge. I look forward for that what is about to come. I don't want to be 18 again."


Thanx for the translation "wirbel2" (member of Official Messageboard at




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