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Wednesday, 3 April, 2002, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Kournikova's crisis deepens
Anna Kournikova during a photo-shoot for sponsors adidas
Kournikova has made millions through endorsements
By BBC Sport Online's Tom Fordyce

March was an instructive month in the life of Anna Kournikova.

Away from tennis, her steamy role in the video of Enrique Iglesias's 'Escape' was the talk of teen America.

On-court, she was beaten in the first round of the Masters in Miami by the unheralded Eleni Daniilidou.

  Hingis v Kournikova
Ranking: 3rd/66th
Singles titles: 40/0
Grand Slam titles: 5/0
On-court earnings: 11.6m/2m
Now, as April gets underway, one of her main sponsors has warned that her on-court form must improve if she is to keep her current lucrative endorsement deal.

"More sporting success is vital if she is to be taken seriously as an athlete," said adidas chief executive Herbert Hainer.

"She will have to train harder and then attack to hopefully win her first tournament."

And there's the trouble. It's very hard taking seriously a player who has yet to win a single tour event in over 100 attempts.

A despairing Anna Kournikova
Kournikova's form has been poor once again this spring
Yet the level of the 20-year-old's off-court earnings suggests a talent on par with that of Tiger Woods or Kobe Bryant.

Kournikova is in many ways the archetypal 21st century sportswoman, a triumph of hype over achievement.

She was arguably the first sporting star of the internet age, her name being one of the most frequently requested words in search engines.

Most British fans have seen far more of her on the hundreds of fansites on the web that at Wimbledon, where she has failed to make any sort of impact since reaching the semi-finals in 1997.

Last summer her adverts for Berlei sports bras were plastered across billboards throughout the UK, giving her a profile bigger than that of any other player.

Dumped out

But she didn't even make it as far as the first round at the All England Club - a stress fracture of the foot keeping her out.

It was the same story in 2000. While Forbes Magazine named her 58th in their Power 100 Fame and Fortune list, the only female athlete in the top 100, she was dumped out of Wimbledon in the second round.

Anna Kournikova during a photo-shoot for sponsors adidas
Kournikova says her training makes her too masculine
Is this the sort of form that justifies endorsements worth 7.5m that year?

Kournikova's only successes have come in doubles events. She has twice won the Australian Open title, both times with Martina Hingis.

Hingis provides an interesting counterpoint to Kournikova's crisis.

As a player, the Swiss is undoubtedly superior - her five Grand Slam singles titles dwarfing the Russian's achievements.

But both are threatening to be swept away by the new breed in women's tennis, the players whose game revolves around brute power rather than prettiness.

Hingis has not won a Grand Slam since Venus and Serena Williams hit their peaks and Jennifer Capriati returned from the wilderness.

For all her stroke-playing talents, she does not have the weight of shot to compete with the Americans at their best.

Anna Kournikova loses again on court
Kournikova has failed to win a tournament in over 100 attempts
Kournikova lacks both the subtlety of her doubles partner and the strength of the others.

Does she realise? Probably. Is she prepared to so anything about it? Doubtful.

"I hate my muscles," she said recently.

"I don't want to look like they [Venus and Serena] do. I'm not masculine like they are."

It's an attitude that may eventually cost her dear. Does Marion Jones complain that the weights programme that took her to Olympic and world championship success made her look too beefy?

Does Inge de Bruijn moan that the shoulders which powered her to Olympic swimming gold are too big?

Bond girl?

There is also the question of how long simply being blonde and attractive can keep the sponsors happy.

Venus and Serena embody a different kind of beauty, yet sponsors are falling over themselves to be associated with them.

Does Tiger Woods suffer for not being blond and blue-eyed? Of course not.

Kournikova is rumoured to be making an appearance in the new James Bond film.

It would be a rather appropriate role.

The story of a good-looking star whose physical charms often see them through difficult situations might be written for Anna.

She'll be making only a cameo in the movie. A starring role in the future of women's tennis is another matter entirely.

See also:

13 Dec 01 |  Tennis
Anna Kournikova
22 Mar 02 |  Tennis
Kournikova draws another blank
07 Mar 02 |  Tennis
Kournikova crashes out
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