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Monday, 26 June, 2000, 12:14 GMT 13:14 UK
Anna: Tennis's one love
berlei poster
Advantage Miss Kourikova: The pin-up sensation
If tennis stardom were to be judged on the column inches generated and endorsement earnings, a Russian-born girl ranked 15th in the world would beat all-comers.

Anna Kournikova nets 7.5m a year, but has yet to win a singles tournament.

Just a fraction of that - 467,000 last year - she earned on the tennis court. The remainder came from a lucrative string of endorsement deals.
Anna as Sports Illustrated covergirl
Blondes get more media coverage

Only the mens' number one Andre Agassi, who raked in 12.5m, banks more than her in the world of tennis.

The 19-year-old is a marketing dream, says Drew Barran, deputy editor of Sports Marketing magazine.

"Advertisers are looking for someone who makes the front pages as well as the back pages. She's like David Beckham - a hugely marketable product. Branders look for characters... as opposed to the top athletes who just plug away at their game."

One's love

Just like the Spice Girl's consort, the details of Miss Kournikova's lovelife - invariably involving an ice hockey star from her native land - make tabloid editors slaver with delight.

In the run-up to Wimbledon, she can be almost guaranteed more column inches than home-grown hopefuls, such as Tim Henman.
David Beckham
Advertisers want celebrities that don't fade into the sports pitch

As for the number of pictures run, Kournikova can claim the grand slam - even featuring with a suspicious frequency in the broadsheets.

Kournikova's two main sponsors, Adidas and the sports-bra manufacturer Berlei, both make use of her pin-up status.

Berlei unveiled a poster campaign in London earlier this month, in which the bra-clad tennis player pouts next to the slogan: "Only the ball should bounce."

Ball boys

"That's supposedly aimed at women, which is kind of bizarre because that's not the market she appeals to," Mr Barran says.

Kournikova also does good business at the turnstiles, he says.

"She was recently at Eastbourne [tennis championship], which would have boosted the crowd even though she got knocked out in the (quarter final)."
Anna Kournikova
See you on court: Anna's game is improving

Reigning Wimbledon women's champion Lindsay Davenport is not such a hot marketing prospect, he says.

"She's not as physically appealing, but she's at the peak of her career and she tends to keep out of the media circus."

French ace Natalie Tauziat, a relative unknown despite her on-court prowess, has hit out against this bias in her book, The Hidden Side of Tennis.

Backhanded compliment

"Aesthetics and charisma are seen as more important than sporting performance and it won't change as long as the box office puts Kournikova ahead of Lindsay Davenport just because she is prettier."

So is the young Russian really all face and no forehand?
Anna Kournikova hugs a dolphin
Is Anna only a big fish in the sponsorship game?

"There's a lot of people who say she's got great potential, but so far she's not proved it. She hasn't even won a tournament," says Mr Barran.

Even Natalie Tauziat admits the 19-year-old "Lolita's" game is improving: "She can concentrate on balls these days, rather than let her mind wonder off in search of an admiring gaze."

Mr Barran suspects other tennis experts are wary of backing Kournikova too loudly.

Role model

"From a tennis point of view, I doubt any governing bodies are going to pick her to promote the game."

Richard Lewis, director of tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association, begs to differ.

"It's very positive that [Kournikova] is raising the profile of the women's game."
Anna Kournikova
The shape of things to come?

While he admits the Russian, who is unseeded at this year's Wimbledon, cannot claim to dominate the headlines on the sports pages, Mr Lewis defends Kournikova's abilities.

"She wouldn't get the amount of attention she does if she didn't play well."

Mr Lewis also argues the teenager, dubbed Cor-nikova by the tabloids, isn't skewing the popular view of what it takes to make it in the game.

Line call

"People know you don't have to look like Anna. They see that top players come in all shapes and sizes."

However, Anna's svelte lines may well be the shape of all sport in the future.

The Sports Sponsorship Advisory Service, funded by Sport England, says Ms Kournikova's ability to exploit her "sex appeal" should be a model for all. struggling athletes.
Kournikova has won several doubles honours
Eye on the prize: There's room in Anna's trophy cupboard

Simon Scott, head of the SSAS, said those in low profile sports, such as hockey, could "sex-up" their activities in the hope of grabbing more of the sponsorship pie.

"It should be done tastefully. As much as sex appeal, per se, it's about glamorisation and making the most of what you've got," he said.

Of course, sex appeal and hordes of adoring fans cannot ensure a shot at the silverware.

Sporting posterity, at least, always looks at a player's mantelpiece.

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See also:

29 Feb 00 | Tennis
Ice ace nets Kournikova
01 Jun 00 | Tennis
Kournikova bows out
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