Anna Kournikova Biography: 1. The Early Years   2. Professional Career   3. Anna Offcourt  

Biography of Anna Kournikova: The Early Years
    Anna was born in Moscow, Russia (then a part of the Soviet Union) on Sunday, June 7, 1981.

    Her father, Sergei Kournikov was 20 at the time. Sergei, a former Greco-Roman wrestling champion, had earned a Ph.D and was a professor at the University of Physical Culture and Sport in Moscow. As of 2001, he was still a part-time martial arts instructor there.

    Her mother Alla, a sturdily built blonde who was 18 when Anna was born, had been a 400-meter runner.

    Sergei said: "We were young and we liked the clean, physical life, so Anna was in a good environment for sport from the beginning." 1
    The family name is spelled in Russian without an "o", so a direct translation would be "Kurnikova", and it is sometimes written that way. But it is pronouced "Kournikova", so the family chose that as their english spelling.

    Anna received her first tennis racquet as a Christmas gift in 1986 at age 5. Anna says: "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. It was only when I started playing well at seven that I went to a professional academy. I would go to school, and then my parents would take me to the club, and I'd spend the rest of the day there just having fun with the kids." 2

    Anna played her first tennis at Moscow's Soklniki Park and at age 7 joined the prestigious Spartak Tennis Club, associated with Russian pro Olga Morozova. Anna was coached at Spartak by Larissa Preobrazhenskaya, a well-known Russian teaching pro who had been the Soviet Union’s first Fed Cup coach in 1968. Larissa said: "In our first group of children, Anna was the one who didn’t give up at once. Some of the other girls ran and jumped better than she did, but little Anna couldn’t stay in second place. When I saw that, I offered to train her." Anna recalled: "All the kids loved [Preobrazhenskaya], because her best quality was patience. She would feed us balls all day and supervise our playing. Really, she was like a second mother to us, and that made us feel very protected. Playing there at Spartak for nine hours a day, I saw more of her than I saw of my real mother." 1

    Recalling her childhood, Anna said: "I had dolls, but I was never really into girly stuff. My favorite toys were my stuffed animals, although I didn't give them enough of my time. I would just visit with them for maybe five minutes every morning, and then I was running off to find something more active to do. I had too much energy... Mostly, I just wanted to play tennis for eight hours a day, watch tennis videos, eat, and fall into bed, dead." 1

    Within a year, Anna had won her first junior tournament, and soon drew the attention of professional tennis scouts.

    In the fall of 1991, when Anna was ten, Eugene L. Scott (editor of Tennis Week magazine) saw Anna play in the juniors of a tournament he had organized in Moscow. Scott told Paul Theofanous, an IMG (International Management Group) agent about Anna. Theofanous said: "I kind of laughed it off at first, but then I saw her hit at the 1991 Kremlin Cup, and I started hearing from too many other people that this was one extraordinary talent." After Theofanous had phone discussions with Anna's mother Alla, Anna signed a contract with IMG. 3,4

    Anna was still 10 when she was enrolled in the IMG-owned Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, in Feburary, 1992. Other famous players who have attended the Bolletieri Academy include Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Mary Pierce, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, and Andre Agassi.

    Anna had only been at the academy a couple of months when head coach Nick Bolletieri said: "I've seen them all, but this one actually frightens me. She knows everything-- what she wants to do and how she's going to get there. She's not only the youngest real prospect I've ever had, but the best." 3,4

10-year-old Anna Kournikova receiving instruction from Nick Bolletieri
in early 1992, her first year at his academy.
click to view larger photo, Lycos registration required

    Later, in his book, My Aces, My Faults (written with the late Dick Schaap, 1996), Bolletieri said:

    She was a dazzling little girl, bubbling with enthusiasm. When she was ten years old, she hit with Pete Sampras on our red clay court. "I was hitting him always drop shots," she says, "and I remember him yelling and saying 'You're beating me with drop shots!' I remember that." Anna also hit with Andre. "I felt more comfortable with Sampras," she recalls.
    Anna was pampered, placed on a pedastal, hailed as the next Seles, and as she entered her teens, she thought she was Queen Tut. She was rude, conceited; in other words, she was a teenager. I began to suspect that, even though I believed Anna had superior tennis talent, she would be surpassed by Venus Williams or Martina Hingis...
    Right now [1996], if I had to choose among Hingis, Williams, and Anna, I would certainly lean towards Anna... Anna, with considerable help from her mother, Alla, has survived a couple of tough years and begun to grow on court and off. Her self-confidence is, to say the least, considerable.

    About her time at the Bolletieri Academy, Anna says: "From August to May, I'd be in Miami, and then I would spend the summer in Moscow. It was very different in America, but the Academy made everything easy for me. There were great facilities. I had lots of fruit, tennis balls, tennis rackets, tennis courts, and lots of kids to play with."

click to view larger photo
    As Anna developed her skills, Monica Seles, who preceded her at the Bolletieri Academy, was the player she most respected. In a post-match interview (after Monica defeated Anna in a semifinal at the 2002 Pan-Pacific Open) Anna said: "Well, Monica has always been the player that I have admired since I was growing up. She was always the one that I looked up to. I think that not even today, but when I was younger, I think that I always tried to learn something from her game. Right now, it is a little bit different, because I have to go out there and compete against her. But like I said, she was my favorite player when I was growing up."

Anna at the 1993 Orange
Bowl Juniors Tournament.

    By 1993, Anna was winning titles in the "18s" tournaments (for girls 18 or younger), and the St. Petersburg Times referred to her as "the latest teen phenom". She was 11 years old.

    In his book Topspin, Elliot Berry describes watching Anna playing in the US Open Juniors in 1994:

    There were three junior girls I felt sure would make it as pros: Anna Kournikova, Venus Williams, and Martina Hingis. Their personalities were already distinct, and there was a fine line between the amusing arrogance of young Anna Kournikova and the quiet self-confidence of Martina Hingis. Venus Williams was still in tissue paper, waiting to be unwrapped by her sponsors...
I was particularly partial to little Anna Kournikova, who at age twelve was impossibly pleased with herself [Anna was actually 13 years and almost 3 months old at this time]. Kournikova played with all savvy, guts, and hauteur of a seasoned trouper...
That budding arrogance was part of what made a two-hour-ten-minute beauty out of the upcoming doubles match between Anna Kournikova and Nino Louarsabishvilym two Russians nearly a foot different in height, and the top American junior team of Cristina Moros and Stephanie Nickitas...
    Kournikova's grunts were louder than Monica Seles's had been, and for whole games she was, incredibly at twelve [13] years old, the best player on the court. It looked for a while as if Moros and Nickitas, the two-time American junior champions who had lost 6-3, 6-3 to Jana Novotna and Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario in the main U.S. Open draw, would lose to the Mutt-and-Jeff Russian girls [Anna and Nino eventually lost the match, played on September 6, 1994, 5-7, 6-4, 3-6].
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13-year-old Anna , playing Wimbledon juniors, Jun 27, 1994.

    At 1994's year-end "18s" Rolex Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships in Miami Beach, Anna, seeded 9th, lost in the final on Christmas Eve to Marian Ramon of Spain, 5-7, 4-6.

    The following year, 1995, Anna dominated junior tennis. She was a French Open juniors quarterfinalist, and a Wimbledon juniors semifinalist, and won the European Championships and Italian Open juniors. In the Christmas Eve Orange Bowl "18s" final, Anna defeated Sandra Nacuk of Yugoslavia 6-3, 6-2, and finished the year as the ITF Junior World Champion.

Next: 2. Professional Career   3. Anna Offcourt

1: Kournikova:
The Player

by Peter Bodo
Tennis Magazine
May, 2001

2: Interview
by Richard Calpin
FHM Sept. 2001

3: Kournikova, Anna
by Patrick Kelly
Current Biography
Jan. 2002 p. 74

4: New York Times
April 23, 1992
B, p. 13

5: Player Profile:
Anna Kournikova

6: Interview
Inside Sport
December, 1999

7: Interview
Hola Magazine
August 24th, 1999

8: Interview
Sunday Herald
June 23, 2002

9: Interview
by Matthew Cronin
July 26, 2002

10: Interview with
Harold Solomon
Toronto Globe-Mail
August 14, 2002

Anna Kournikova Post-Match Interviews
at QuickSports

Other Sources:

Sports Illustrated
June 6, 2000

August, 1999


Anna Kournikova pages at

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