Kournikova's absence a plus for Wimbledon

Media Watch

June 23, 1998|By Milton Kent

Perhaps the best news to come out of Wimbledon yesterday is that Russian Anna Kournikova will miss this year's tournament because maybe now the tennis-watching public will key in on just that, tennis, and not on Kournikova's figure.

In case you've missed her, Kournikova is the Spice Girl wanna-be (call her Serving Spice), and the subject of numerous salacious magazine articles and Web sites. She would have been a focal point of television coverage, not to mention a darling of the British tabloids, if she hadn't hurt her thumb last week in a tuneup tournament win over Steffi Graf.

Kournikova has never won a pro tournament, but did lose in the Wimbledon semifinals. But in our celebrity-obsessed society, Kournikova, who, in the words of Martina Navratilova "hasn't won a damn thing," is a star because she is blond and beautiful and not only knows it, but trades on it.

In a March Sports Illustrated piece, which practically dripped with writer Michael Silver's drool, Kournikova said, "It's human nature for people to notice. If I had plastic surgery to make me look worse, maybe that would help. People ask me, 'Why do you have to look good on the court? Why not just play?' Why should I have to look ugly just because I'm an athlete?"

No one should begrudge Kournikova her good looks. They are as God-given as her ability to whip a forehand past an opponent.

But at a time when women are just now being accepted in the athletic realm for their abilities and not just for their looks, Kournikova's rise, strictly on cosmetic grounds, makes it harder for every female athlete to be evaluated strictly on her performance on the playing field.

Just as troubling is this fact: Kournikova is barely 17, the age of a high school senior in this country, a fact that didn't deter Detroit Red Wings center Sergei Fedorov, 28, from carrying on an as-yet undefined relationship with her.

Kournikova's parents, and in particular her mother, Alla, have allowed her not only to make brash statements, but have presumably given their permission for her to be photographed in attire that women twice her age might be embarrassed to be seen in.

But outside of commenting on the novelty of her looks and her attitude, few in the media have had much to say about the propriety of Kournikova's conduct or her parents' tacit approval of same.

The usually candid Navratilova and Billie Jean King both said last week in an HBO conference call they had no problem with Kournikova's photos or comments, comparing her to Gabriela Sabatini, a notion that their colleague, Mary Carillo, challenged.

"I never got the sense that Gabriela courted it as much as Kournikova does. Kournikova loves all this stuff. She goes after it. She wants it," said Carillo. "She doesn't seem to mind this whole nymphet role that has become her at all. In fact [she says], 'Give me more. Bring it on.' "

And maybe that's where Kournikova's parents or the media should step in. Assuming she continues to progress as a player, there will be plenty of years for the "Russian Lolita," as tennis writer/analyst Bud Collins has dubbed her, to prance and preen. There's no reason for television, magazines and newspapers to exploit a girl who still apparently has a lot of growing up to do.

Feeling a draft?

There's actually an element of drama attached to tomorrow night's NBA draft, which should make viewing fun. After Arizona point guard Mike Bibby, the presumed first choice of the Los Angeles Clippers, the identities of the rest of the first-round choices are a mystery and that should add spice to the proceedings.

Thankfully, unlike the bloated NFL session, it only takes one hour to get through the NBA draft.

Ernie Johnson will anchor TNT's coverage, starting at 7: 30 p.m., with support from analyst Hubie Brown and guests Rick Majerus of the University of Utah, and Georgetown's John Thompson. Kevin Harlan, Kenny Smith and Peter Vecsey will take part in a preview show tonight at 7 on TNT.

Just wondering

How did ESPN2 find a New York studio large enough for newspaper columnist Mike Lupica, his self-indulgent questions, his ego and his guests for the eponymous snore of a talk show of which he is the host?

After his jingoistic prediction that the U.S. would beat Iran, 3-0, in World Cup soccer Sunday, have we finally heard the last of ABC's Brent Musburger as a serious player in sports broadcasting?

Please?

Pub Date: 6/23/98

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