Anna Kournikova spawned a lasting legacy. It wasn't that computer virus bearing her name or the army of Russian fembots who followed the trail she blazed to wealth and fabulosity.
No, her legacy runs deeper. Forget that she was the No 1 doubles player in the world and won two majors with Martina Hingis. Forget that she was a top ten singles player with wins over Hingis, Davenport, Capriati, Graf and Seles. Forget that she made it to the second week of every Slam, including a run to the Wimbledon semis. Forget all that. Anna Kournikova never won a title! WHAT A LOSER! We could scream it in her face without guilt, she was gorgeous and rolling around in millions, she'd be fine. And we got a wonderfully evil name to call any young woman with a modicum of good looks and the audacity to try to make a name for herself in sports.
Google Anna Kournikova. For every article you find actually about Anna, you'll find a dozen about Danica Patrick, the Anna Kournikova of racing. Or Michelle Wie, the Anna Kournikova of golf. Or Biba Golic, the Anna Kournikova of table tennis. (That last woman actually exists.) Seriously, God bless Anna, because what term did we possibly have to describe these awful women before she came along?
Well now tennis has another Anna Kournikova, and her name is Ana Ivanovic. Forget that Ana won the French Open. Forget that she was the No 1 player in the world. She's young, she's pretty and she's struggling, so she must be destroyed.
Looking at Ivanovic in the last couple weeks alone, it's hard to know how to feel for her. Professionally, she showed signs of life in Brisbane, defeating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova en route to the semis where she fell to Justine Henin. But then she imploded against Gisela Dulko in Melbourne, leaving the court in tears. This past weekend, she played three Fed Cup matches against Russia and failed to win a single set. So, not good. At the same time, adidas announced a lifetime deal with the Serb, making her the youngest athlete to score such a deal. And now she's burning up magazine stands in a racy (well, racy for Ana) spread in Sports Illustrated.
The Anna Kournikova of today
Yup, the same week we congratulate Mrs. Andy Roddick, Brooklyn Decker, for beating out a whole host of frighteningly gorgeous women for the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, we're boiling tar and plucking feathers for Ana Ivanovic, who had the unmitigated gall to demean her sport by showing some skin. She's going to hell, and she's taking all female athletes with her.
If it all feels so familiar, it's because we went through this before. Yup, with Anna K. She posed in her bikini, in a spread that Ana's photographer either paid homage to or blatantly stole from. Either way, naughty naughty girls.
Naughty naughty boys are just fine. When Fernando Verdasco and Tommy Robredo took it all off for Cosmo UK, they were scamps. The beefcake shots of Marat Safin and Pat Rafter? Boys will be boys. Now quick, spray them down with more water. Verdasco is currently starring in a Calvin Klein tighty whities ad, and that's great promotion for the sport (and, presumably, for Verdasco's dating life).
But what is it inside us that feels the need to put these young girls in their places? And not just Kournikova and Ivanovic, but fellow Swimsuiters Daniela Hantuchova, Tatiana Golovin and Maria Kirilenko? Or Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams, who also took heat for frolicking in the surf? Are guys taking out all their old frustrations at being snubbed by the pretty girl in high school? Are women so thoroughly over the objectification of their gender that they look at these young girls as brainless colluders or (worse) money-grubbing traitors?
But I digress.
Ana Ivanovic isn't being attacked because she's edging closer to a commodity, she's getting ripped apart for her much-publicized ranking freefall. Her ranking today? No 23. That's her freefall. 23. In the middle of a crisis of confidence that's given her the worst serve on tour (something that used to be her bread and butter), she's just outside the top twenty. Fix the toss and that's a lot of upward mobility.
Will Ana get there? Who knows. The question is, what would thrill us more, if she did or if she didn't? To those dismissing her (and demeaning two women at once by calling someone the Anna Kournikova of anything), be warned. In her press conferences, Ivanovic may put forth the enthusiasm of an over-caffeinated third grader, but behind that smile lurks a fire. She's out there on that practice court every day, for hours and hours. She's putting in the work. The blood, sweat and tears. As is Daniela, and Maria, and Tatiana. And Danica, and Michelle, and Biba. And as did, in truth, Anna K.
Whatever stage of their career they're in, on the way up, on the way down, or caught in the media glare of the middle, while we're busy forgetting everything else to make a convenient argument, or take out our own biases, remember this: Even pretty girls want to win.
Follow the Anna Kournikova of tennis writers at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.
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