Kournikova on Centre Court of attention

Russian stages upset over No. 10 Testud

Hingis, Williamses win


June 27, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England - What's the fuss about the enormous billboards featuring Anna Kournikova in a sports bra?

And how come an unseeded player can rate front-page newspaper coverage for wearing a diamond ring the size of a baby grand piano and then turn up on Centre Court and bring Wimbledon to a halt?

Must be the forehands.

Yesterday, Kournikova, of Russia, staged the first upset of Wimbledon's Millennium Championships, defeating No. 10 seed Sandrine Testud, of France, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4.

She then faced the predictable barrage of media questions about her looks, stardom and lack of tournament titles.

"I'm only 19 still, so I have a long way before me," Kournikova said. "I'm just going to be working. I don't pay any attention to what is going on around. Everyone needs a story. I'm just working. That's what I'm doing, playing tennis."

Overexposed, overpaid and over here, Kournikova managed to play well on Wimbledon's opening day, surviving dark skies, a rain delay and some nerves before putting away Testud for what she called her "most meaningful" win of the season.

"It was really exciting," Kournikova said. "It was really enjoyable to be out there. I had a lot of fun playing."

The Kournikova victory dominated a day in which the sport's other stars slid easily through the opening round.

No. 1 seed Martina Hingis defeated Angeles Montolio, 6-1, 6-2, in a match that was in stark contrast to her debut last year, when she was shocked in the first round by Jelena Dokic.

The Williams sisters, who have both struggled this season with injuries, had impressive debuts. No. 5 Venus Williams defeated Kveta Hrdlickova, 6-3, 6-1, while No. 8 Serena Williams defeated Asa Carlsson, 6-3, 6-2.

"I'd be happy if I have six more rounds," Serena Williams said. "One down, six to go."

Kournikova wasn't quite so ebullient after her win. A surprisingly adept grass-court player who was a Wimbledon semifinalist in 1997, she still displayed nerves on key points.

Up 5-2 in the second set, she failed to serve out the match. But in the third, she battled and claimed the win on her third match point.

"She was relaxed when she was down," Kournikova said.

Testud admitted that her first-round match wasn't easy.

"I came on to the court to win and nothing else," she said.

But Testud ran into a dangerous floater, not to mention a media phenomenon who appears larger than life on billboards all across London.

"That's the press that does that," Testud said of the swirl that surrounds Kournikova. "Not the players. We know that she can play good tennis. She is known for some other things. She is a good player. She's a good baseliner. She has a very difficult ground stroke. A better forehand than backhand. I think she has a good game for grass. She played very good a couple of years ago here."

Serena Williams also added her support to Kournikova .

"I have no problem with Anna," she said. "I get along with her just fine. What's the problem? I don't see a problem with what she's doing. I don't even see what she's doing. She's just being herself."

But sometimes it does get a little much when players are asked over and over for their opinion on a foe. The media went a Kournikova question too far with Testud, who finally blurted out, "I'm not looking and saying, `Oh, my God, there's Anna Kournikova.' What can I say? She's beautiful?"

Leave it to Kournikova to put the ads, stories and attention into perspective.

"I'm concentrating on the tennis," she said.

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