Kournikova at 30.
In an exclusive interview, Anna Kournikova talks to The Tennis Space about how she feels free, comfortable and happy in Miami, how she is now “kinder, and more tolerant, towards myself”, and why she is enjoying getting older (“though maybe it would be nice to have the skin of a 20-year-old”).
– The Russian also recalls some of the criticism: “I wish people gave me more credit. I’m a human being, I’ve still got a heart. I’m not made of ice.”
– And some of the craziness: “There were a million things made up about me”.
– And argues that the ladies’ tennis tour will always be a glamorous place: “Where there are women, there is always glamour. Sex appeal is always going to be there, people will create it – but the most important thing is how you do on the court.”
How is life in Miami?
“I’m happy here, absolutely. Oh god, I’ve been here for years. I love Miami, because it’s so low-key, everyone can walk around in shorts and flip-flops. It’s not a proper city like New York or Los Angeles, where if you go outside you have to be dressed and everything. Here, I could go around naked. The good thing here is that there aren’t too many photographers chasing you. If you’re in LA, the photographers are everywhere. I still get recognised a lot. It gets a little bit weird when it’s during your private time. Then again, I’m used to it by now. It’s easier to be nice, to stop and smile and laugh then they’ll let you go.”
Have you changed since quitting the tour?
“Oh completely. When I was playing, I was 21 years old, and now I’m a bit older. It would be weird if I hadn’t changed, going from a tennis life when you spend 11 months of the year on the road, and from being 21 years old. Obviously, it would be weird if I hadn’t changed from 21 to 30, if I hadn’t grown up. You know, I like getting older. I wouldn’t want to be 22 or 25 in my head again. I really enjoy getting old. With me, I like myself so much better. I understand myself so much better. I feel like I’m getting smarter and wiser and better and learning a lot of things. Probably in a year’s time I’ll say that at this moment in time I was stupid. Maybe it would be nice to have the skin of a 20-year-old. I really like going forward and moving. It would be quite boring not changing.”
You didn’t like yourself?
“I’m not saying that I didn’t like myself, absolutely not. It’s just that you’re 20 or 21 you have a totally different perspective. Now that I’m older, I’m much more tolerant towards myself, much kinder towards myself. You get wiser, and you get more mature.”
One achievement you’re most proud of?
“Just everything, in general, because of where I came from, where I started from. I was born in the Soviet Union, in a communist country, where we really didn’t have anything. It was very difficult. You couldn’t travel. We were from a middle-low class. What I achieved through sport and tennis, I had some amazing results throughout my career. I had some amazing results and everything. I’ve been very fortunate. People always forget where I came from. They got used to me being a pretty face. I’m not here to prove or to scream or to remind people. As long as I know that I achieved things in tennis, that’s what matters to me.”
Does it frustrate you that people always remind you that you didn’t win a singles title?
“No, not at all. It doesn’t frustrate me now. And it didn’t frustrate me then either. True tennis fans know my results. I know my results. I know what I have achieved. I know how far I came. I know how well I played. True tennis fans know. People should look at the statistics, see who I have beaten, and everything. I don’t want to change anyone’s perception or opinion, really I don’t have time for that. That’s not something I’m worried about.
“Do I sometimes wish it were different and that people gave me more credit? Yes. I’m a human being. I’ve still got a heart. I’m not made of ice. At the same time, I’ve been in the public eye for so many years, there’s been so much criticism, so much scrutiny, so much time in the spotlight, that I’ve developed a certain shield, a certain thick skin, if you will. But the most important thing is what you think of yourself and what you did, and what the people close to you, and the people you care about, what they think. That’s the most important thing. You cannot be good for everybody. There are always going to be some people who like you and some people who don’t.”
Can’t please everybody?
“I don’t even think about pleasing other people. I think about what is right, and if I think it’s right, then I’ll do it.”
“There are always going to be regrets such as I wish I played that tournament instead of that one. I wish I had taken more time off to heal an injury rather than coming back too soon. But life-changing regrets, absolutely not.”
Do you ever look back at the craziness, such as the time when you said, ‘you couldn’t afford me’?
“I didn’t say that. That was made up. There are a million things that have been made up about me. I wouldn’t have time to respond to all the things that have been made up about me. There was someone screaming something every two seconds. You really think that I would answer when people screamed out at me? There are so many things like that, so many millions of stories. I didn’t read the papers. I was leading my life. I would wake up, have breakfast, go to practice, go ice whichever parts were hurting, go to have lunch, go play a match, have a massage, go to the gym, work-out, go to sleep at 9pm. That was my life. That was the most important thing, what was happening in my life. It was not glamorous. Being a tennis player was a 24/7 job. The preparation, the training, the performance, you treat your body as a tool. You have to make sure that you get enough sleep, you get enough rest. Everything was very limited.”
Looking at it from the outside now, does the tennis tour seem like a strange place?
“No. It’s a great sport. It’s one of the few women’s sport that’s worldwide. I had a great time on the tour. I was also very lucky and fortunate that my parents were able to travel with me. It can be lonely, and especially when you’re young you have to be careful that people don’t take advantage of you. I was very fortunate I had my parents with me and I had my team travelling with me. It was really good. But of course it can get very lonely and difficult. Overall, I think it was great. The only problem was that the season is so long, and then you have to get ready, training for the next season to begin. I couldn’t have hoped for anything better. I travelled the world. I saw almost every country, I saw ever single culture, I did what I love to do. I was young. It was a great experience.”
On keeping up with her friends in tennis:
“I’m in touch with Serena Williams, and some of the Russian girls, like Myskina, Kuznetsova, and Safina – those are my generation. I follow the results and watch some of the matches on television. I’m playing two or three times a week with some friends, some guys who are former players on the tour.”
In five years time what do you think you will be doing?
“Hopefully I’ll be doing what I’m doing now, and getting even better and bringing light to the causes and charities I’m involved with. You know, just growing up and moving forward as a person, and working, working, working. I love working. I love being busy, doing projects that I enjoy and love. I don’t have to work right now. I don’t have to do it for money. I do certain little projects, modelling here and there, to get a salary. But my main passion is working with kids and travelling. Using my name and using all the experience I’ve got from travelling for the last 15 years. I’m spreading the word.”
Are you enjoying getting older?
“I started quite young, having quite a grown up life, travelling around the world, playing a professional sport, having a career, working when I was 14 years old. So I started much younger than a normal person. Most 22-years-old come out of college and get their first job. At 22, I had already stopped playing tennis. It’s a little different with the timing. I feel as though I’ve packed a lot into my life. Sometimes I feel as though I’m 12. I sometimes think to myself, ‘I don’t know this, and a 10-year-old knows it’. I was with a bunch of friends, with kids who were 10 or 12 and they were in a completely different world. They’re so much more advanced than us. It’s like, ‘Oh my god’. And then sometimes I feel as though I’m 50. So, you know, I’m here or there.”
Are you still watching a lot of tennis?
“I watch the grand slams. I follow the results in the newspapers and on the internet. I really don’t know the game that deep. I don’t watch the matches that much. I’m so super-happy for tennis that the Williams sisters are still around – they’re such amazing athletes. They’re active legends, they’re playing legends. It’s great for fans, it’s great for American tennis, it’s great for young kids. They’re great girls, they’re super-nice.”
How will women’s tennis cope when the Williams sisters retire?
“I’m sure that tennis will miss Serena and Venus Williams when they’re gone. The tour will miss them, the fans will miss them. But life will go on. That’s normal, that’s the life cycle. What Serena and Venus have achieved is amazing – Serena is up there as one of the greatest players of all time, and I’m always impressed by how rounded they are as individuals – but there will be new girls, new superstars, in tennis, and I don’t think that women’s tennis will struggle to cope when they retire. The competition was tough when I was playing, it was difficult to break into the top 20 or top 10, but from following the game since I retired, it seems that the competition is even more intense now. It’s possible for anyone from 1 to 25 to beat anyone, and that makes it more exciting, as you never know what’s going to happen.”
Is women’s tennis as glamorous now as it was when you were playing?
“Where there are women, there is always glamour. Absolutely. I don’t know if sex appeal is important, but it’s going to be there, people will create it. The most important thing is how you do on the court.”