Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is Anna Kournikova still relevant to tennis?

I’m asking because I ran across some K-Swiss ads featuring her over the weekend and I found myself wondering if this company had lost its mind or was I possibly missing something. Why would anyone think that Anna Kournikova could still help any brand sell tennis shoes?

I remember once going to the US Open back when Ms. Kournikova was still trying to be relevant to the sport. I noticed a massive crowd hanging around a practice court and assumed that it had to be someone of the caliber of Steffi Graf or Martina Hingis practicing. It was neither. It was Anna Kournikova.

Can I prove that she seemed unduly aware of her audience, that she preened and posed just so, as cameras whirled and flashed? No I can’t. But I remember that she was escorted like royalty off the practice court. And I noted that she had played more confidently during the practice session than she would in the match that followed. The match itself was typical Anna, yet another embarrassing loss. But every seat in the stadium was sold out as the blonde Russian took centre stage. Few paid attention to the match itself -- all eyes were on Anna. Girls fantasized about being her and boys salivated openly as she reached under her skirt to retrieve tennis balls.

There was a time when Anna could sell her body like no other. Not literally of course, unless one counts those questionable marital arrangements for financial benefit. I ain’t sayin’ she was a gold digger, but you never saw her messin’ with no broke hockey playa. Tabloids blared lurid details about the latest scandals surrounding whom she may or may not have married. She became internationally famous.

But Anna’s fame was always minimally because of her tennis. Outside of the doubles arena where she tagged along as Hingis pushed them to achieve the #1 berth, Anna was pretty much an idiot on the tennis court. But she was a beautiful and sexy idiot and people lined up to watch her play and to buy the products she promoted.

I never bought one but my personal favorites were the bras. The ones with the tag line: “Only the balls should bounce“. The double entendre was lost on no one. Neither were the message of the workout tapes that seem to have been bought mainly by pubescent boys, thanks to their being practically indistinguishable from soft porn.

Every other female Russian player who has followed Ms. Kournikova has had to struggle against the image of the young woman with the blonde pony tail and not much else between her ears. Women like Dementieva and Safina have worked hard to prove to the tennis world that they cannot be dismissed as mere fluff. Because that was the essence of the Kournikova legacy. Fluff and fame and paparazzi fodder.

Anna disappeared from tennis for a while following a series of injuries that offered her a graceful path to exit from the sport. But she remained in the limelight as a print model, her annual calendar shots commanding top dollar.

And then along came World Team Tennis which hauled her out of tennis obscurity and provided a safe space in which her individual losses could be obscured by team results. Her fame probably helped sell tickets. The exchange was symbiotic. Everyone benefited.

And now K-Swiss would have us believe that serious tennis players will buy their shoes and clothes because of Anna Kournikova. Because Anna is apparently "classic", like their shoes. [Yeah, that's the most important thing to me when buying new tennis shoes.] Maybe it’s a question of relevance. With Nike just about dominating the market in all sports, it makes a kind of ludicrous sense for two irrelevant brands to team up and promote each other. And who knows, somewhere out there might be a few nostalgic fans who still fantasize about getting a piece of Anna.


Anonymous said...

Awwwww, poor TennisChick :( Here, this one is for you...


tennischick said...

LOL! Trust me, I have no envy for Anna. I was just asking question: Is she still relevant to tennis?

Australian Tennis Player said...

Was she ever relevant to tennis?

The sponsors still chase her because she is still famous, and because she is still beautiful. Its nothing to do with her tennis anymore.

Would imagine she is a lot cheaper than the Williams sisters and Ana Ivanovic aswell...

Ethnic Food said...

THis gorgeous girl is perfect for tennis and modelling. She is absolutely multi-talented. Wish her all the best