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  Wednesday, 4 September, 2002, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Anger at glamour girl hoax
Simonya Popova invites comparisons with Anna Kournikova
Popova invites comparisons with Anna Kournikova
The American magazine Sports Illustrated has been caught up in a row with the Women's Tennis Association for publishing an article about a fictitious player.

Journalist Jon Wertheim caused a stir with a feature about Simonya Popova, a 17-year-old star from Uzbekistan.

The magazine carried a set of computer-generated portraits of the imaginary player with an accompanying article which focused on her beauty and midriff-baring outfits.

WTA chiefs were angered by the suggestion that the women's game was in need of some extra spice and hit out at the magazine for focusing on Popova's looks.

"It was misleading and irritating. There are a lot of great stories out there. We didn't need a fake one," said WTA spokesman Chris De Maria.

The article provoked a flood of calls to the WTA from newspapers demanding more details of Popova and asking why she was not playing at the US Open.


We're a hot sport right now and we've never had to rely on good looks
WTA spokesman Chris De Maria

"That didn't bother me," added De Maria. "But what was irritating was the implication that the women's tour doesn't have enough appeal and needs a player like this.

"That is disrespectful to the great players we have.

"Many people don't read to the bottom of long articles, and anyway that does not change the fact that the comments in the article were unwarranted.

"We're a hot sport right now and we've never had to rely on good looks."

Wertheim dropped hints throughout the piece that Simonya - a send-up of the current film about a computer-created movie star named Simone - was a made-up character.

"It was meant in good fun, playful and hopefully creative. It was not meant as some grand hoax," he said.

Sports Illustrated has dabbled in fiction before. In 1985, George Plimpton wrote about New York Mets pitching prospect Sidd Finch, who had a 168 mph fastball.

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