What You Never Knew About Anna Kournikova

Although she has been enjoying a quiet life away from the spotlight in recent years, Anna Kournikova was tennis' most famous player and one of the world's most recognized athletes during the height of her career. After bursting onto the scene as a teenager, the Russian native quickly began playing in Grand Slam tournaments and climbing the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) rankings. 


Alongside Martina Hingis, the tennis star became a doubles champion, picking up several Grand Slam titles. As her fame grew, Kournikova made millions through brand deals and public appearances. Even though the tennis star's career was cut short in 2003 due to a devastating back injury, Kournikova's name is still well-known all over the world — and she has become an inspiration for hundreds of young women hoping to make a name for themselves in the sport.

Curious to learn more about this tennis icon? Here are a few things you likely never knew about Anna Kournikova.

Anna Kournikova started playing tennis as a child in Russia

Anna Kournikova was born in Moscow, Russia (formerly the U.S.S.R.) on June 7, 1981, to parents Sergei and Alla (via Sportsmates). Her father, Sergei Kournikova, was a former Greco-Roman wrestling champion who held a Ph.D. and later became a professor of sports and athletics. Kournikova's mother, Alla, was a 400-meter runner in her youth. Sergei fostered his daughter's enthusiasm for playing sports at a young age. ”We were young and we liked the clean, physical life, so Anna was in a good environment for sport from the beginning," he said, via Sportsmates.


Kournikova was 5 years old when she got her first tennis racket for Christmas in 1986; she soon after started playing regularly. As she explained, ”I played two times a week from age five. It was a children's program. And it was just for fun; my parents didn't know I was going to play professionally, they just wanted me to do something because I had lots of energy.” At age 7, Kournikova was enrolled at the prestigious Spartak Tennis Club, where renowned coach Larissa Preobrazhenskaya trained her (per Sportsmates). 

She climbed through the ranks and moved to America

Three years into training at the Spartak Tennis Club, Anna Kournikova began playing and excelling in junior tournaments, gaining attention from tennis scouts around the world (via Biogs.com). Eventually, this resulted in her signing a management deal at age 10, which brought her a lucrative opportunity to train at Nick Bollettieri's elite-level tennis academy. According to CNN, Bollettieri's only thought upon seeing her play was "holy mackerel."


Moving to the U.S. would later pay dividends in her tennis career. At age 14, Kournikova won the European Championships and the Italian Open junior tournaments. In September 1995, Kournikova made her WTA debut when she received a wildcard place to compete in the qualifiers for the Moscow Ladies Open, per ESPN. Remarkably, she managed to progress to the main draw, but bowed out against third-seeded Sabine Appelmans in the second round. Later that year, Kournikova would go on to become the youngest player to win the Junior Orange Bowl in Florida. Such a meteoric rise culminated in her being crowned 1995's ITF Junior World Champion U-18 and Junior European Champion U-18.

Anna Kournikova began playing in Grand Slams at a young age

Anna Kournikova enjoyed further junior-level success in 1996. Later that year, she started being coached by Ed Nagel, who helped prepare her for the next stage of her development: Grand Slam tournaments.


Symbolizing the pinnacle of the sport, Grand Slams include the four biggest tennis competitions: the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open. Kournikova debuted at her first Grand Slam, the U.S. Open, at age 15. After winning her first-round match against Czech-born Ludmila Richterova, Kournikova spoke positively about the experience. "It's already a good tournament for me," she told The New York Times. "I qualified and then I won my first match. So I think that's great."

Such a confident attitude helped her progress past her second- and third-round opponents, when she faced multiple Grand Slam champion superstar and No. 1 seed Steffi Graf. Kournikova suffered a sobering 6-2, 6-1 defeat, but her successful debut catapulted her ranking from number 144 to 69 (via Independent). Such success was duly recognized at the sport's end-of-year awards, where she was voted WTA newcomer of the year for 1996.


She reached the Wimbledon semifinal in 1997

Anna Kournikova continued to improve in the 1997 season, starting to make inroads into the doubles game as she finished the year ranked 32nd in singles and 41st in doubles (via Fanbuzz). Her most notable success story that year was reaching the Wimbledon semifinal in her debut outing, where she lost to the eventual champion and fellow rising star Martina Hingis.


Despite this disappointment, Kournikova was reflective and philosophical about the experience. ”I'm sure I'll learn something from this match," she told the Independent. "I've had a great tournament; I'm really happy with the way I played. It's unbelievable I got to the semifinals. I was dreaming about this."

The following season, in 1998, Kournikova broke into the WTA top 20 rankings for the first time and was seeded 16th for that year's Australian Open. This was followed up by reaching her first WTA singles final at the Miami Open, where she lost in three sets to now-legendary player Venus Williams. This success was matched and even surpassed in the doubles discipline, where she partnered with Monica Seles to win her first WTA doubles title in Tokyo and finished the year ranked 10th (via WTA Tennis).


Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis were dubbed the Spice Girls of tennis

Going into the 1999 season, Anna Kournikova was still determined to excel in the singles discipline, but this year would showcase her outstanding abilities in the doubles game. At the 1999 Australian Open, she partnered up with fierce rival Martina Hingis, and together they won the tournament by beating No. 1 seeds Lindsay Davenport and Natasha Zvereva. This marked Kournikova's first Grand Slam title and the first with Hingis, who dubbed the pair ”the Spice Girls of tennis.” Kournikova commented on this blossoming partnership by saying, ”It feels great. I was really lucky to play with Martina and it's a great tradition" (via The Washington Post).


This superb start to the season was followed by more success, as Kournikova and Hingis won titles at Indian Wells, Rome, Eastbourne, and the year-ending WTA Finals (then known as the WTA Tour Championships), via Tennis Now. This consistency resulted in Kournikova climbing to the No. 1 ranking in doubles, which was her finishing position that season. As a result, she and Hingis were presented with the WTA award for doubles team of the year (via WTA Tennis).

She made a fortune from brand deals

As a young, rising tennis star, Anna Kournikova began courting the attention of commercial partners who were keen to sign her up for lucrative sponsorship deals. While her exploits in the game earned her just over $3.5 million in prize money by the completion of her career (via WTA), this sum was easily surpassed by her early sponsorship deals.


Deals with brands such as Berlei lingerie and sportswear brand Adidas reportedly earned Kournikova $6 million in 2000, on top of her $748,000 in prize money that season. Added to this were deals with Omega watches and K-Swiss shoe wear, which boosted her commercial earnings to a reported $10 million per annum

Tournament organizers capitalized on her commercial success by scheduling her matches on show courts, even though her ranking would normally not warrant this. This was remarked upon by tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg. ”I think a lot of other players were jealous of her, perhaps deservingly so," he said (via CNN). "She got a lot more attention and a lot more endorsement money than a lot of players who were better than her." Today, Celebrity Net Worth estimates her total net worth at $50 million.


Anna Kournikova's fame brought her love

As a highly marketable athlete, Anna Kournikova translated her success to music, agreeing to play the love interest in Enrique Iglesias' music video for "Escape," which reached No. 3 and No. 12 on the U.K. and U.S. charts, respectively. The love affair did not stop there: After the video was filmed, Iglesias and Kournikova began dating. The pair have kept their personal life private — and despite Kournikova listing her Instagram name as Anna Kournikova Iglesias, it is unclear if the couple is actually married. We do know that they are parents to fraternal twins, Nicholas and Lucy, born in December 2017, and a third child, Mary, who was born in February 2020 (via People).


In recent years, Kournikova has mostly kept a low profile away from the spotlight. However, she did pose for the cover of Cosmopolitan Russia's 25th-anniversary edition in 2019, where she also gave her first interview since having children. Today, Kournikova has built up a strong following on Instagram, and regularly shares posts of her spending time with her family.

Anna Kournikova was forced to retire early

Anna Kournikova's 2001 season started positively, as she reached her second Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open. However, this was soon reversed by a stress fracture in her left foot that required surgery, which forced her to withdraw from a dozen tournaments, including the French Open and Wimbledon (via Fandom).


2002 saw a resurgence in fitness and form, as Kournikova competed in the semifinals of Auckland, Tokyo, Acapulco, and San Diego, as well as the finals of the China Open. But again, her greatest success was in doubles, with her and Martina Hingis winning the Australian Open title. Kournikova experienced more injuries in 2003, as a sprained back and an adductor strain caused her to miss much of the season.

It was the back injury that ultimately forced Kournikova to retire. As she retold the experience to People, ”I never planned or thought that was going to be it. My back really forced me to stop. It got so bad I couldn't tie my shoes, literally. I would be in excruciating pain. I had been doing six to eight hours [of training] every day since I was 5 years old.”


She did plenty of charity work after retirement

Anna Kournikova has not played competitively since retiring at the end of 2003, but she has participated in exhibition matches for charitable causes. In late 2004, she joined Elton John and fellow tennis player Andre Agassi in a fundraising event for AIDS charities (via Hello! Magazine). She reunited with Elton in 2008 in an exhibition event, raising funds for Elton's AIDS Foundation and the Atlanta AIDS Partnership Fund (via Project Q Atlanta). Commenting on the sums raised by these events, Elton said at the time, ”What's happened over the 10, 11 years that we've been raising money is that we've sent $50 million out into the communities worldwide, but by the time people have matched those funds once or twice or three times, it's actually $350 million that we've generated.”


The following year, Kournikova teamed up with American tennis great Jim Courier and took on fellow American greats John McEnroe and Tracy Austin at the ”Legendary Night” at New York's Turning Stone Event Center. In a blog post, she wrote enthusiastically about the experience. ”I just love playing with all of them; we have so much fun on the court together!" she said. "In the end, John and I were able to pull it out and win the match!”

Anna Kournikova became an American citizen in 2010

Anna Kournikova continued her charitable work and became an important ambassador for the United Service Organization (USO), whose goal is to help military service members and their families transition into civilian life (per USO). Working with the organization, Kournikova traveled all over the world to places such as Guam, Turkey, and Germany to meet with military personnel and their families. The children she met in Guam made a thought-provoking impression. ”What was so amazing to see was the support and unity of the parents and kids as they move around and adapt to different locations and ways of life," she said in a story written for the USO.


These and many other volunteering trips on behalf of the USO led Kournikova to apply to become a U.S. citizen, which was required in order to continue such work. She achieved this goal in 2010, and her citizenship has inspired her to raise more awareness for the USO. "I was out on the court fighting for a title and a ranking, and they are literally fighting for their lives and the lives of every American," she said. "I am so grateful for the opportunity to give back to our military for their service and sacrifice."

Her career gave her a new perspective on feminism

In June 2010, Anna Kournikova announced that she and Martina Hingis would return to Wimbledon to compete in the veterans' doubles event. This would be Kournikova's first competitive match since her retirement at the end of 2003. The pair faced and defeated Anne Hobbs and Sam Smith on June 29, 2010 (via The Telegraph).


After the match, Kournikova spoke to The Guardian about the challenges that female professional tennis players face. ”Tennis is a grind, and I think the women, in general, don't get enough credit," she said. "It's a full-time job, it's 24/7. You're week-in, week-out, on the road for 10, 11 months of the year. You have no personal life. You have no home life. It's not glamorous at all.”

Since then, Kournikova hasn't returned to the court competitively, but has stated her intention to continue playing in invitational exhibitions and charity matches. ”Tennis is still one of the biggest parts of my life and I'm very much involved in the game," she told The Daily Mail. "I play the World Team Tennis League in the States right after Wimbledon, and all year round I play tennis exhibitions and charity matches.”


Anna Kournikova was once on a weight loss reality show

Later in 2010, Anna Kournikova appeared on NBC's weight-loss reality TV show "The Biggest Loser," coaching contestants in tennis workout challenges (via HuffPost). After this initial guest appearance, Kournikova joined the program as a regular the next season. She was quoted at the time as saying, ”This is an amazing opportunity for me to join 'The Biggest Loser' family.”


Unfortunately for Kournikova, this opportunity only lasted one season. Her contract wasn't renewed for Season 13, as she was allegedly described as a ”nightmare” to work with and as unsympathetic to losing contestants. "I enjoyed my time on 'The Biggest Loser' ranch. Although I will not be returning as a full-time trainer on Season 13, I will always be a part of 'The Biggest Loser' family, and my commitment to bettering lives through health and fitness will continue," she said in a statement at the time (via The Hollywood Reporter).

She has left behind a huge legacy

Although Anna Kournikova may not have been as successful as some of her peers — such as the Williams sisters or Martina Hingis, who have each won multiple Grand Slams in singles and doubles — succeeding Russian players have spoken of Kournikova's positive influence on their careers. 


Grand Slam singles champion Svetlana Kuznetsova holds Kournikova in high regard. ”For me, she brought really big popularity to Russian tennis, women's tennis," she told the WTA in 2017. "Everyone after her was just after her. For me, she was a big, huge push." She even dismissed Kournikova's critics who cite her career as a failure. "Everybody was saying she never won a tournament, hee hee ha ha," Kuznetsova went on. "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. I think she was great."

Kournikova even has a cocktail named after her, as well as a poker hand named after her in the Texas hold 'em variation of the card game.