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Former pro tennis player says she misses court life



Former tennis star Anna Kournikova set to play an exhibition match in Toronto.

The line of questioning usually ranges from Sports Illustrated to National Enquirer whenever tennis pro and pinup star Anna Kournikova becomes available on a conference call.

Yesterday was no exception as Kournikova took a midday break to promote her appearance in the Tennis Legends portion of the Rogers Cup, Aug. 4-12.

Anyone following the gossip these days is familiar with the May 28 headline trumpeting Kournikova’s break-up with boyfriend-pop star Enrique Iglesias. But over the phone yesterday, laughing and in good spirits, Kournikova said her relationship with Iglesias is still going strong.

“The status ..... the status is everything is fine and everything is good,” Kournikova said.

“He’s (Iglesias) out promoting a new album, which comes out (today) ..... everybody please get one ..... but I couldn’t be happier.”

Naturally, her love life was the topic of interest, and Kournikova volleyed that one right back like it was a return she used to make six or seven years ago when her world singles ranking bobbed between the top 10 and the top 100.

Her WTA tour days ended three years ago thanks to a back injury. She plays now for fun, still a pro, but part of a tour with other name-brand players from the past like Jim Courier and John McEnroe, who pack in the crowds for charity.

“I get affected by the weather, I get itchy where the screw is when it rains,” Kournikova said about a foot injury that required surgery.

Kournikova was somewhat introspective yesterday when asked if her true potential may have been compromised by the Hollywood-style attention that followed her.

Blessed with movie-star looks, she and her bikini-clad body became a cyberspace hit. Television night show appearances and paparazzi followed. Her media stardom soon outdistanced her development on the tennis court.

“When you’re good as a child, a child prodigy ..... you’re bound to get attention. Martina (Hingis) got attention when she was young, and most kids do ..... was mine a lot ..... yes, it was, but it was good and I never knew how big it was,” said Kournikova, who won a pair of WTA doubles titles with Hingis.

“Did it take away from my game ..... I don’t think so. There’s things I might have done differently, things like entering certain tournaments, scheduling, things like that. But you do it while you can.”

When she arrives in Toronto in August, Kournikova will still be a media magnet. But she says her focus has now moved elsewhere.

“I love working with children, seeing the curiosity in them,” said Kournikova, who promotes and raises funds for several children’s charities. “If I can help in any way, or bring awareness to a cause I believe in, I’m satisfied with that.”

Last week, she celebrated her 26th birthday by doing several promotions — including an appearance on the Today Show for her new children’s exercise video.

Iglesias didn’t forget her 26th, even though it’s been reported the two have split up.

“No,” she said when asked if the birthday gift was a ring.

“I got a piece of jewellery, I got a bracelet ..... I got a love bracelet.”

Kournikova yearns for tennis' big stage

Former player, 26, still feels effects from injuries that cut short career

Anna Kournikova

TORONTO - After all the injuries and all the setbacks, Anna Kournikova longs for the big stage of world-class tennis.

“Nothing will ever compare to being on the court,” she said Monday. “I miss the actual matches and 7-6 in the third, and playing in front of 20,000 people and the adrenalin rush.”

Kournikova, speaking during a conference call, will be in Toronto in August to play in the Rogers Cup Tennis Legends, an exhibition event at the annual women’s tennis stop in Canada.

Kournikova never won a singles title, but glamour and photogenic looks carried her to places where her game could not. The 26-year-old Russian says the demands of the pro circuit are consuming.

“It’s a way of life, it’s 24/7, and you’ve either got to do it or you don’t,” she said. “You’ve got to do it while you can and once your body gives up ...

“Plus it is hard mentally,” she added. “I have other passions now. But will I find something exactly the same, with the same feeling? No, that’s something you really can’t duplicate.”

Kournikova’s biggest success came in doubles. She was once the world’s No. 1 doubles player and teamed with Martina Hingis to win Grand Slam titles in Australia in 1999 and 2002.

But injuries cut short her career, and she still feels the lingering effects.

“My foot where I have my screw will be itching when it’s raining,” she said. “I get affected by the weather. I definitely feel it in my joints. I still keep in shape and try to work out, but I definitely feel like I was a professional athlete. I definitely feel like my body has been through a lot.”

Nowadays, she plays when she can. She had just stepped off the court before Monday’s conference call.

“I’m just trying to get ready for all the masters (events) that I’m going to be playing this summer,” Kournikova said. “When I’m home I try to play as much as I can, every other day, even if it’s just for half an hour or an hour.”