In 2001, tennis star-turned-sex symbol Anna Kournikova took home £220,000 in tournament prize money. It was a sum overshadowed by the £7 million-plus she banked for endorsements, flashing that model smile for everything from Adidas to Charles Schwab investments. And the offers keep rolling in, though she's never won a major singles tennis title.
"She is always saying, 'I'm beautiful, famous and gorgeous'," her mum Alla told People magazine, when it voted her daughter one of the 50 most beautiful people in the world in 1998. But all the talk of Anna as tennis eye candy as opposed to an athlete doesn't appear to bother the sexy Russian as much as that nagging insinuation that she isn't devoted to the game. "If I weren't committed," says Anna who in 2002 found herself crashing out of Wimbledon in the first round "why would I be putting myself through so much by playing badly?"
But Anna's reputation hasn't always been one of style over substance. Born in Moscow on June 7, 1981, to Alla and dad Sergei, a professional wrestler, Anna began playing tennis aged five, after her father sold the family TV to buy her a racquet for Christmas. And soon the sport was an outlet for Anna's "tons of energy". "My parents figured I had to do something because they couldn't handle me," she explains. "They would drive me to the local tennis club, which was in a forest in Moscow, and they'd pick me up there after dark."
At that point it hadn't occurred to the tennis prodigy to make a living at the sport "I didn't even know you could get paid to play," she says but that would soon change. Discovered in 1991 by talent scouts, she was soon the Next Big Thing, training at Florida's famed Bollettieri Tennis Academy.
"When do I want to turn pro?" asked ten-year-old Anna rhetorically in a 1992 New York Times interview. "The sooner, the better." She spent the next three years trouncing opponents on the junior circuit before turning pro in October 1995. The following year she reached the fourth round in her first US Open, and aged 16 made it to the semi-finals in her Wimbledon debut.
She once spent 35 weeks a year on the tennis circuit, but in 2001 she played only ten tournaments due to injury. After ten months out of action, her rank dropped from eight to 55, and in 2003, just before dropping out of the competitive circuit, she hit 305. Said the tennis star: "Obviously I'm not a top player right now... Some people criticise, but the fans have been great and that's all that matters."
The 5ft 8in beauty continues to make bigger news for her personal life such as her relationship with Latin pop star Enrique Iglesias than she does for her game, but insists that a serious relationship is not on her mind. "I'm not thinking about the future or settling down, and don't even talk to me about having children," she says.