The Stunning Transformation Of Anna Kournikova

Anna Kournikova shot to fame as a wunderkind teen tennis player in the late 1990s. Born in Russia, she immigrated to the United States when she was only ten years old to develop her game. She began playing tennis professionally at 14, and immediately showed huge amounts of promise: In her first two years playing, she advanced to the quarter-finals and semi-finals of two different Grand Slams.

But it was the attention that she received off the court that made her the most-Googled athlete in 2001, and kept her near the top of that list for many years after. Kournikova embraced the spotlight, modeling for Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit issue in 2004, and working as a spokeswoman and model for many different brands. She received near-constant media attention for her good looks, but in hindsight, much of the media obsession feels patronizing and downright creepy, given how young she was.

Kournikova's tennis career never quite took off the way it was expected to; bothered by a nagging and painful back injury, she was forced to stop playing in 2003. These days, she is retired from the game, and lives a relatively quiet life with her family. Keep reading to follow the stunning transformation of Anna Kournikova.

Anna Kournikova was dedicated to tennis at a young age

Anna Kournikova was born on June 7th, 1981 in the then-Soviet Union to parents Sergei and Alla. Both of her parents were athletes, and Kournikova certainly inherited those genes. She picked up her first tennis racket at only 5 years old (it was a present) and she immediately took to the game. A few years later, she began training seriously at the Spartak Tennis Academy just outside of Moscow with legendary coach Larisa Preobrazhenskaya. She continued to show so much promise and love for playing the game that she made the life-changing decision to move to the United States.

With her mother, Kournikova relocated to Bradenton, Florida so that she could train with legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri at his tennis academy. Bollettieri was an incredibly famous and sought-after coach, as he had already coached champion tennis players such as Andre Agassi and Monica Seles. Even though Kournikova was only 10, she loved the game, and took to working with Bollettieri immediately. He told CNN that he remembered his first time meeting Kournikova: "This little girl comes and jumps in my ball basket and says, 'I'm here for the lesson!' I thought, 'Who the hell is this?' ... it was unbelievable to see the spunk of a little girl just coming and saying 'I'm here. I'm ready.'"

She found early success as a junior tennis player

Nick Bollettieri's coaching style clearly struck a chord with Anna Kournikova, and she began winning tournaments quickly. Just four years after joining his academy, she won the 1995 Italian Open Junior tournament. It was her first tournament victory, and she continued to build on that success the rest of the year. In June, she advanced to the quarter-finals of the International Junior Championships of France, and in July, she made it to the semi-finals of the Wimbledon Junior Championship.

In December, she won her second tournament of the year: the Orange Bowl International Championship in Miami, Florida. The victory was particularly sweet, because she had been the runner up in the tournament the year before (via ITF). Because of all of her success that year, she was named the 1995 ITF Junior World Champion (per ESPN). Kournikova was only 14, and more tennis success was right around the corner.

Anna Kournikova made her professional debut at age 14

The success Anna Kournikova found on the juniors circuit wasn't the only exciting thing to happen to her in 1995: She also made her professional debut with the Women's Tennis Association, playing in her native Russia at the Moscow Ladies Open. Even more exciting, she won her very first game against German player Marketa Kotcha. She did lose her next game, falling in the second round to Belgian player Sabine Applemans. Still, it was an impressive debut, especially considering she was only 14 years old, and that Applemans was the third-seeded player in the tournament.

She had more success in the doubles competition of the Moscow Ladies Open. Kournikova partnered with Polish tennis player Aleksandra Olsza, and they made a deep run into the tournament. They played first-seeded Meredith McGrath from the U.S. and Larisa Savchenko from Latvia in the final game, which they ultimately lost. This competition foreshadowed Kournikova's later success as a doubles tennis player.

She played in her first Grand Slam the next year

Anna Kournikova made her Grand Slam debut at the 1996 US Open, and just like her WTA debut at the Moscow Ladies Open the year earlier, she won her first game. She defeated Ludmila Richterova from the Czech Republic in the first round, and after the game, she told the New York Times, "It's already a good tournament for me. I qualified and then I won my first match. So I think that's great." Kournikova's positive attitude continued to serve her, as she beat Natalia Baudone-Furlan in the second round, and 14th seed Barbara Paulus in the third (via ITF).

In the fourth round, Kournikova faced first seed Steffi Graf. Kournikova broke Graf in the first game, but ultimately lost in two sets, 6-2, 6-1. Still, advancing all the way to the 16th round was an incredible Grand Slam debut for the 15-year-old player. Graf was at the top of the women's tennis world at the time, and went on to win the tournament.

1996 was a banner year for her

Anna Kournikova's breakout performance in the 1996 US Open wasn't the only success she found that year. Just months after the US Open, Kournikova represented the Russian Federation in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta. At only 15 years old, she was the youngest tennis player participating in the Olympics that year. She lost her first game to Belgian player Laurence Courtois, but still, participating in the Olympics as a teenager is an incredible feat.

In April, Kournikova played for Russia in the Fed Cup, an international tennis competition in which a group of players represent their country, and helped Russia beat Sweden in the first round (via WTA). Her appearance in the Fed Cup, the Olympics, and her incredible run at the US Open led her to win the WTA Newcomer of the Year in 1996 (per Bleacher Report). She ended the year ranked 65, up from 281 the year before.

The athlete reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 1997

Anna Kournikova made a stunning run at Wimbledon in 1997: During her first time ever playing in the tournament, she advanced all the way to the semi-finals. The only other woman to do that at that point was Chris Evert in 1972 (per WTA). Even more impressive, Kournikova entered the tournament unseeded. After making it through the first four qualifying rounds, Kournikova beat fourth-seeded Croatian player Iva Majoli in the quarter-finals.

She did lose her next game, the semi-final, to first-seed Martina Hingis (Switzerland). Even after the loss, Kournikova had a sunny perspective on her experience playing in the tournament, telling the Independent, "I'm sure I'll learn something from this match. I've had a great tournament, I'm really happy the way I played. It's unbelievable I got to the semi-finals. I was dreaming about this."

Hingis and Kournikova were both 16 at the time, and it seemed clear that these two teenagers were the future of women's tennis. Hingis acknowledged the budding rivalry with Kournikova, telling the Independent after the game, "When we posed for the photographers after the toss I said [to Kournikova] `This is not the first time and I'm sure there are going to be many more times.' Everyone is making a big rivalry of it." She wasn't wrong — Hingis and Kournikova would continue to meet in tennis matches all over the world. But their future together was more than just their rivalry.

Anna Kournikova won her first Grand Slam in 1999 with the help of a former rival

At the 1999 Australian Open, Anna Kournikova partnered up with one-time rival Martina Hingis for the doubles tournament. It was their first time playing together as doubles partners, and it couldn't have gone better: They won the tournament, defeating the first-seeded team of Lindsay Davenport and Natasha Zvereva. It was Kournikova's first-ever Grand Slam victory. After the game, Kournikova told the Washington Post, "It feels great. I was really lucky to play with Martina and it's a great tradition." 

Hingis started calling the pair "The Spice Girls of Tennis." They clearly loved playing together, as the Australian Open was the beginning of a long and successful doubles partnership. In 1999, they went on to win doubles tournaments at Indian Wells, Rome, and Eastbourne, as well as the WTA Award for Doubles Team of the Year. They won the Australian Open again in 2002, which would be Kournikova's final career Grand Slam victory.

In 2000, Anna Kournikova signed a deal to be the face of Berlei sports bras

In one of her first major modeling contracts, Berlei sports bras hired Anna Kournikova to be the face of their Shock Absorber sports bras — using the slogan "Only the Ball Should Bounce." The company used Kournikova's image to promote the bras on everything from packaging to 20-foot billboards. The Washington Post estimated that her deals with Berlei and Adidas brought her $6 million in income in 2000.

As her fame grew, Kournikova signed more and more endorsement deals, with her modeling and advertising income quickly outstripping her tennis earnings. A few years later, in 2002, CNN Money estimated she made $10 million a year, as she began to advertise for Omega, Adidas, and K-Swiss. Celebrity Net Worth estimates her total net worth at $50 million, including "tens of millions from endorsement deals." While Kournikova caught a lot of flack in the press for doing so much advertising and modeling work, she told Graham Norton: "Because of me, my family moved to a different continent ... and so I was supporting everybody, basically."

A music video changed her life

In 2001, Anna Kournikova agreed to play the love interest in the music video for Enrique Iglesias's song "Escape." The pair didn't know each other before filming the video, where they share some steamy make out scenes. Their on-screen chemistry translated into real life: They started dating after filming the music video, and they've been together ever since (via People).

The couple has kept their personal life quite private, to the point that it's unclear whether they are married. Kournikova wears wedding and engagement rings in instagram pictures, where she lists her name as Anna Kournikova Iglesias. But she also told People in 2008, "​​I'm never getting married." Iglesias echoed that sentiment in an interview with Parade in 2012, saying, "I've never really thought marriage would make a difference. Maybe it's because I come from divorced parents, but I don't think you love someone more because of a piece of paper. And nowadays, it's not taboo to have kids and not be married." Regardless of their marital status, the couple is clearly dedicated to each other.

Plagued by injuries, she retired from tennis in May 2003

Anna Kournikova had battled back pain, stress fractures and other injuries for many years, and they all caught up with her in 2003. She played in the Australian Open and won her first round game, but aggravated her back. That injury forced her to withdraw from several tournaments that year. The last tournament she played in was in Charlottesville in May 2003, and she pulled out of tournaments in England in June, ending her tennis career (via WTA).

Many considered it a disappointing finish to a promising start — Kournikova never won a singles tournament — but there's no doubt that Kournikova's success inspired a whole generation of younger players, especially young Russian women. Russian player and two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova told the WTA in a 2017 interview: "I always defend her when they say 'Oh, she never won a tournament.' So what? She was a Top 10 player. It's not just about winning tournaments. She was a great image for the game, not only for Russia but for tennis all over the world." Kuznetsova was part of a group of Russian women who began achieving great success in tennis in the years after Kournikova retired, including Anastasia Myskina, Elena Dementieva, and of course, Maria Sharapova.

In retirement, she dedicated herself to volunteer work

Even though Kournikova retired from playing tennis professionally, that didn't end her love of the game, and she has continued to play the sport for different good causes. In 2008, she participated in the Advanta World TeamTennis Smash Hits celebrity tennis tournament, which raised money for Elton John's AIDS Foundation and the Atlanta Aids Partnership Fund.

Kournikova has also volunteered with HIV/AIDS patients in other parts of the world. In 2009, she took a trip to her native Russia to work with young HIV and AIDS patients there, and wrote passionately about the experience for "Our goal here is to reach young people before they begin using drugs, to educate them, to give them the tools they need to make healthy choices. ... I have been back to Russia many times over the years for either tennis or personal reasons, but on this trip it suddenly feels like a completely different country to me. ... I hope that I can make a difference in these kids' lives and that my voice will be heard."

Kournikova made that trip to Russia with PSI, Population Services International, and has continued to work and travel with the organization as a Global Ambassador. 

She became a U.S. citizen in 2010

Anna Kournikova's volunteer work put her on the path to American citizenship. She started volunteering with the USO in 2008, taking a trip to Guam to visit the families of servicemen and women there. As with her other volunteer work with PSI, her focus at the USO has been working with children. After Guam, she also traveled to Germany and Turkey. Kournikova reflected about her volunteer work, writing for the USO's website, "On each trip I have taken with the USO, I have been so inspired by how positive everybody is despite the reality of their jobs during these uncertain times. Everybody is working together toward a common goal, and with extreme care and dedication in everything they do. ... I am so grateful for the opportunity to give back to our military for their service and sacrifice. I can truly say I am proud to be an American."

Kournikova became a U.S. citizen in 2010, and her time with the USO is a large part of the reason why. She said, "You know, I've always considered myself half Russian and half American. It never seemed to really matter if I had a passport or not. But when I started working with the USO and the troops overseas, it just seemed the logical next step" (via Yahoo! Sports).

These days, she lives under the radar with her family

Anna Kournikova and Enrique Iglesias have three children. In December 2017, she gave birth to their twins, Nicholas and Lucy. Kournikova managed to keep her pregnancy a secret, so it was a total surprise when the couple posted pictures of their newborns on their Instagram accounts in January 2018, with the matching captions "My Sunshine" (via Insider).

In January 2020, their youngest daughter, Mary (or Masha, in Russian), joined the family. Again, Kournikova and Iglesias didn't let the press know they were expecting, so it was another surprise when she posted a picture of baby Mary on her Instagram, announcing her birth. Iglesias described to People how big siblings Nicholas and Lucy were happy to have a little sister: "They actually love it. ... [The transition went] very smoothly." The Kournikova-Iglesias family lives in Miami, where they keep a low profile.