Anna Kournikova : biography
1989–1997: Early years and breakthrough
Following her arrival in the United States, Kournikova became prominent on the tennis scene. At 14, she won the European Championships and the Italian Open Junior tournament. She became the youngest player to win the 18-and-under division of the Junior Orange Bowl tennis tournament. By the end of the year, Kournikova was crowned the ITF Junior World Champion U-18 and Junior European Champion U-18.
In 1994, Kournikova received a wild card into ITF tournament in Moscow qualifications, but lost to third seeded Sabine Appelmans. She debuted in professional tennis at 14 in the Fed Cup for Russia, the youngest player ever to participate and win. In 1995, she turned pro, and won two ITF titles, in Midland, Michigan and Rockford, Illinois. The same year Kournikova reached her first WTA Tour doubles final at the Kremlin Cup. Partnering with 1995 Wimbledon girls’ champion in both singles and doubles Aleksandra Olsza, they lost to Meredith McGrath and Larisa Neiland.
In 1996, she started playing under a new coach, Ed Nagel. Her six-year tenure with Ed would produce terrific results. At 15, she made her grand slam debut, when she reached the fourth round of the 1996 US Open, only to be stopped by then-top ranked player Steffi Graf, the eventual champion. After this tournament, Kournikova’s ranking jumped from No. 144 to debut in the Top 100 at No. 69. Kournikova was a member of the Russian delegation to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1996, she was named WTA Newcomer of the Year, and she was ranked No. 57 in the end of the season.
Kournikova entered the 1997 Australian Open as World No. 67, where she lost in the first round to World No. 12 Amanda Coetzer. At the Italian Open, Kournikova lost to Amanda Coetzer in the second round. However, she reached the semifinals in the doubles partnering with Elena Likhovtseva, before losing to the sixth seeds Mary Joe Fernández and Patricia Tarabini.
At the 1997 French Open, Kournikova made it to the third round before losing to World No. 1 Martina Hingis. She also reached the third round in doubles with Likhovtseva. At the 1997 Wimbledon Championships, Kournikova became only the second woman in the open era to reach the semifinals in her Wimbledon debut, the first being Chris Evert in 1972. There she lost to eventual champion Martina Hingis.
At the 1997 US Open, she lost in the second round to the eleventh seed Irina Spîrlea. Partnering with Likhovtseva, she reached the third round of the women’s doubles event. Kournikova played her last WTA Tour event of 1997 at Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Filderstadt, losing to Amanda Coetzer in the second round of singles, and in the first round of doubles to Lindsay Davenport and Jana Novotná partnering with Likhovtseva. She broke into the top 50 on 19 May, and was ranked No. 32 in singles and No. 41 in doubles at the end of the season.
1998–2000: Success and stardom
In 1998, Kournikova broke into the WTA’s top 20 rankings for the first time, when she was ranked No. 16. At the 1998 Australian Open, Kournikova lost in the third round to World No. 1 player Martina Hingis. She also partnered with Larisa Neiland in women’s doubles, and they lost to eventual champions Hingis and Mirjana Lučić in the second round. Although she lost in the second round of the Paris Open to Anke Huber in singles, Kournikova reached her second doubles WTA Tour final, partnering with Larisa Neiland. They lost to Sabine Appelmans and Miriam Oremans. Kournikova and Neiland reached their second consecutive final at the Linz Open, losing to Alexandra Fusai and Nathalie Tauziat. At the Miami Open, Kournikova reached her first WTA Tour singles final, before losing to Venus Williams in the final.
Kournikova then reached two consecutive quarterfinals, at Amelia Island and the Italian Open, losing respectively to Lindsay Davenport and Martina Hingis. At the German Open, she reached the semifinals in both singles and doubles, partnering with Larisa Neiland. At the 1998 French Open Kournikova had her best result at this tournament, making it to the fourth round before losing to Jana Novotná. She also reached her first Grand Slam doubles semifinals, losing with Neiland to Lindsay Davenport and Natasha Zvereva. During her quarterfinals match at the grass-court Eastbourne Open versus Steffi Graf, Kournikova injured her thumb, which would eventually force her to withdraw from the 1998 Wimbledon Championships. However, she won that match, but then withdraw from her semifinals match against Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. Kournikova returned for the Du Maurier Open and made it to the third round, before losing to Conchita Martínez. At the 1998 US Open Kournikova reached the fourth round before losing to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario. Her strong year qualified her for the year-end 1998 WTA Tour Championships, but she lost to Monica Seles in the first round. However, with Seles, she won her first WTA doubles title, in Tokyo, beating Mary Joe Fernández and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in the final. At the end of the season, she was ranked No. 10 in doubles.