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Interview : Anna Kournikova

(Source : www.chauncehayden.com)

With her penetrating ground strokes and a fearless net game, 18 year-old Anna Kournikova has handily bashed her way to the top of the tennis world. But a great tennis game is not the only thing that this Russian native has. Around the world, young boys and not so young boys fill tennis stadiums with signs that read, Anna gets my blood rushing! and Anna, call me! It would seem that fans are more interested in Kournikovas tight tummy and the waist-length hair she hasnt cut since she was 7.

To add to the teen sex symbol mystique, the 58 (and still growing) Kournikova has been hounded by tabloid reporters, each looking for the real story behind the young tennis stars private relationship with 28-year-old Detroit Red Wings center Sergei Fedorov. Rumor has it that the two were recently engaged. While neither will confirm the story, the flirtatious tennis star was seen sporting a diamond on her finger the size of a doorknob. Besides her success on the court, Kournikova has made quite a name for herself on Madison Avenue as well. With contracts from Adidas, Rolex and Yonex rackets pouring in, Kournikova has become a very rich young girland not a very modest one either. Her mother Alla, who chaperones Anna on the circuit while her college professor dad, Sergei, teaches phys ed in Moscow, never worries about her daughters self-esteem. She is always saying, Im beautiful, famous and gorgeous, says Alla. Anna, overhearing her mother, chimed in. Shes right. Thats my favorite saying.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with the tennis worlds most talked about female player.

ChauncÚ Hayden: Okay, lets start by getting all the tennis questions out of the way. How do you feel about coming to Mahwah, New Jersey?

Anna Kournikova: Last year was a great year for me because I had just come off a great tournament in Wimbledon. I lost in the finals in a very tough match. I really like the tournament in Mahwah, even though I didnt play last year because of an injury. I went anyway, but I was disappointed that I couldnt play.

CH: During this past year how happy have you been in regards to how youre playing tennis?

AK: Im in good shape now. Ive been working very hard and practicing every day.

CH: You seem to always come close but never win it all. What part of your game needs the most work?

AK: I think I just need some more experience and Im going to have to play more matches.

CH: Are you frustrated that you have yet to win a tournament despite some great accomplishments?

AK: No, theres a time for everybody[laughs] thats all I can say!

CH: Tennis experts seem to think its your serve that gives you the most trouble.

AK: My serve is fine now. As you can see its been really fine.

CH: How do you feel about your current ranking?

AK: The last time I looked it was 16th in the world. I try not to think about the rankings. I just try to concentrate on my tennis. But I think its fine.

CH: Do you think the ranking system in tennis is fair?

AK: I dont know a lot of the details but I think its fine.

CH: Thus far, what would you say is the most memorable moment of your tennis career?

AK: It would be very hard to say. There have been so many.

CH: Therere no special moments either bad or good that stand out?

AK: No, not really.

CH: These days it seems as if womens tennis is divided between the older women and the younger women. Do you see the division yourself?

AK: Umno, I personally dont think so. When we are on the court we are just players. Age doesnt matter. Young or old, theres nothing between us other than that were all tennis players. We all just concentrate on our game and try to win the match.

CH: Wouldnt you agree that top-ranked Martina Hingis has had some problems with some of the older players?

AK: I dont know about other players problems. You should ask them. I wouldnt want to judge them. But as far as Im concerned I respect all players, both young and old. For me there is no difference. I respect everybody.

CH: Speaking of Hingis, youre now her doubles partner. What is it like going from her opponent to her teammate?

AK: We have a great friendship. And it helps me, playing with her. Shes taught me a lot of things. Not to mention we have great success on the court as teammates.

CH: What has Hingis taught you exactly?

AK: Well, weve been concentrating a lot on the doubles. The whole time weve been together we lost only one time and that was the final of the French Open. So playing with her and practicing with her is always a learning experience. I have a lot of respect for her as a player. Shes a great girl.

CH: What did you think of Martinas childish behavior at this years French Open Final against Steffi Graf? [Writers note: Hingis threw a temper tantrum after losing to Graf at the French Open.]

AK: I dont really have an opinion, because I cant really judge anybody. I know what it feels like to be on the court and I know that it can be very hard and that you have a lot of different emotions when you play. You want to win so badly and its hard when you get disappointed. You go through so many different emotions on the court. Its different than real life. You have to be an athlete to understand the emotions that were going through.

CH: But you have to agree Martinas behavior was over the top.

AK: I dont know, Im sorry.

CH: Since the both of you are close friends did you talk to her about it after the match?

AK: I just tried to cheer her up. We had to play doubles so we had to get ready for that. She seems to be fine now.

CH: Could you ever see yourself acting that way?

AK: Probably not.

CH: What about some of your other opponents? Are you also friends with Venus and Serena Williams as well?

AK: Yeah, were friendly. We talk to each other in the locker room about girl stuff and things like that.

CH: Correct me if Im wrong, but Ive heard that youve had to deal with criticism back home in Russia for not playing any tournaments there. Has the Russian press been hard on you?

AK: During a break from the tour I went to Russia and played tennis.

CH: Did you go back to play tennis because of criticism by the Russian press?

AK: Not at all. I dont think it was criticism. I just couldnt play in Russia because I was injured.

CH: Does it bother you that the men tennis players earn more prize money than the women?

AK: We work just as hard. [Long pause] But I dont have too much of an opinion on that because as long as Im playing and Im winning it doesnt make a big difference for me.

CH: It sounds like you dont think youre as valuable as the men.

AK: No, I think were just as valuable. But the men are the men. Theyre the best! And they play five sets and that makes a big difference. But on the other hand we have bigger ratings than the men. So I guess we should get paid the same.

CH: Lets face it, part of your persona is that youre not only young but youre also sexy. Do your sponsors who you represent ever get nervous that you might be just a little too sexy and ask you to tone it down?

AK: No, actually I think that they like the fact that Im looking out for myself.

CH: What did it mean for you to be voted one of People magazines 50 Most Beautiful People?

AK: It was an interesting experience but it didnt change my life much.

CH: Its hard to believe that people didnt treat you just a little different after getting that kind of attention.

AK: Nope, not at all. Like I said, my life hasnt changed much.

CH: Well, now that youre 18 life has to have changed just a little for you. I mean, youre an adult now.

AK: Actually, no. I still have to listen to my mother. [Laughs] Shes always right!

CH: How did you celebrate your 18th birthday?

AK: I had dinner with my family and friends. And thats all.

CH: Does your mother have to constantly work to safeguard you from those you might try to exploit you?

AK: Well, I think its great to have a parent to travel with me because being on the tour can be very difficultit can get very lonely at times. Its just hard to be alone. So its nice to have someone from my family, especially my mother, because she understands me. Plus you know that your family only wants the best for you.

CH: There seem to be such great expectations for you. Do you think youve been able to live up to those expectations?

AK: Umyeah, I think so.

CH: What are your own expectations?

AK: For me its always to improve and to continue to do what Im doing as best I can. I just want to continue to do what I love to do and to progress and practice. But the most important thing is to enjoy it.

CH: Can you enjoy it when the media puts so much pressure on you to not just win but to win and be sexy at the same time?

AK: Thats been happening for a long time now. It just is part of the job.

CH: Youre always in the tabloids and I dont mean the sports section. What would you say is the most outrageous non-sport-related story ever written about you?

AK: [Laughs] I dont remember the bad things!

CH: Do you read the bad things?

AK: No, I dont.

CH: How do you handle all the tabloid attention?

AK: Im just going to concentrate on my tennis. There are way too many newspapers to read.

CH: Like it or not youve become more than just a tennis playeryoure a celebrity on the same level as any other A-list celebrity. Which do you enjoy more, the attention you get from being a tennis player or the attention you get from being a celebrity?

AK: If I wanted to be recognized as a celebrity I wouldnt be playing tennis. I would be acting or something.

CH: Do you ever get offers to appear in movies or on television?

AK: It happens sometimes.

CH: For instance?

AK: Im sorry, I cant tell you. I only know what goes on when it comes to tennis.

CH: If you werent playing tennis what would you be doing?

AK: [Laughs] Id probably be working in Russia somewhere! I dont know what Id be doing but I would definitely be doing something.

CH: Okay, lets talk about your love life. Its been rumored that youre dating a hockey player from the Detroit Red Wings. Are you?

AK: I never dated anybody. [Laughs] No.

CH: So then youre single?

AK:: No comment.

CH: Your name is well known even outside of tennis because of your sex symbol image. What is that like for you?

AK: Um I dont know. I dont feel any different whether Im one or not.

CH: Do you see yourself as a sex symbol?

AK: I think of myself as a person.

CH: So you wouldnt consider modeling?

AK: Nope. Obviously, Ive dedicated the last 13 years of my life to tennis, so why would I change?

CH: Because as a model you get paid twice as much and you dont have to practice every day.

AK: Yeah, but you have to be beautiful and you have to sleep and you have to not eat anything. And so that would be a problem because I love to eat.

CH: You said earlier that youve been playing tennis your entire life.

AK: Not my entire life! I didnt play tennis the first five years of my life.

CH: Sorryalmost your entire life. But do you ever get to be just a normal teenager? No tennis, no agents or coachesjust a normal young girl?

AK: I am a young girl.

CH: But are you a normal young girl? I mean do you get to go out and behave like other 18-year-olds?

AK: I think I have more fun than normal 18-year-olds do.

CH: How so?

AK: By proving myself on the court and by playing and winning.

CH: Thats my point. Is there any aspect of your life that doesnt involve tennis?

AK: Well, what do you call fun? Going out and drinking or something?

CH: For me personally, yes. But what about going to a zoo or a park?

AK: I do go to the zoo! Whenever I play tennis in Sydney I go to the zoo there. I love to feed the pandas and the kangaroos! I even got to hold a kangaroo and feed it and everything.

CH: Besides the zoo what else do you do outside of tennis?

AK: I like to go to the beach and shopping and rollerblading and I also like to go to museums.

CH: As a Russian it would be interesting to hear what your taste in music is?

AK: My taste changes all the time in music, because one song is popular for three days and then theres a new one. I like happy music.

CH: Ricky Martin?

AK: I like his song but I dont know if Im actually a Ricky Martin fan.

CH: Of all the places youve traveled, which is most special to you?

AK: If I said just one place Id be lying because every place has its own advantage.

CH: A few weeks ago you played the French Open, last week you played Wimbledon. With that in mind, how important is it for you to come to New Jersey and win at the A&P Tennis Classic at Mahwah?

AK: As important as anything.