It was Anna Kournikovaâs celebrity status that sparked wide spread interest in womenâs tennis at the turn of the century. While the former World No:1 doubles playerâs career ended in premature retirement at age 21, others from her country took up the mantle to keep the Russian flag flying high.It all began again in glorious fashion in 2004, when three out of the four Grandslams in the WTA tour were won by Russians with twoÂ finals being all Russian affairs. They also captured 15 WTA titles on the tour that season and the year end WTA rankings had four Russians inside the Top 6.There has been a steady influx of top class Russian players in to women’s tennis over the past decadeMaria Sharapova became the first Russian to reach World No 1 in 2005 and was followed by Dinara Safina in 2009. Russia dominated the Fed Cup during that period, winning four times.Things have changed drastically since. There is currently only one Russian – Maria Sharapova – in the WTA top 20, and the national team has not won the Fed Cup in seven years. This list takes a look back at those players who initiated the Russian Revolution and explores what they are currently up to.
#1 Anna Kournikova
The one that began it all – Anna Kournikova brought glamour back to women’s tennis during the mid-nineties, and sowed the seeds for more Russian female players to enter the WTA tour.
Kournikova’s name was consistently in the top 10 yearly Google Image searches through out her career and she was the main reason for the huge increase in sponsors as well as spectators for the women’s game during the time.
There are many who dismiss Kournikova’s tennis achievements due to her failure to win a WTA singles title,but nothing can be farther from the truth.
The then-15 year old Muscovite made her Slam debut at the 1996 US Open, reaching the fourth round only to lose to Steffi Graff. She would win the prestigious WTA New comer of the Year award that season to underline her credentials.
In 1997, she went one better, etching her name in to the history books as the youngest player to reach a Wimbledon semifinal (a record that still stands) before losing to eventual winner Martina Hingis.
Her ranking would consistently improve and she would reach a career high No 8 in 2000.
She would be even more successful in doubles, teaming up with Hingis to capture the 1999 and 2002 Australian Open titles and climbing to World Number 1 in November 1999.
A string of injuries would force her to leave the tour in 2003 at the age of just 21. She earned USD 3.8 million as career prize money but that remains only a fraction of what she continues to make through endorsement deals.
Since 2003, Kournikova has played a number of exhibition matches for charity in addition to appearing in various television gigs. She also serves as a global ambassador for Population Services International’s ‘Five & Alive’ program which addresses health issues of children under the age of five.
Trivia: So high was Kournikova’s popularity that a computer virus masquerading as an image of her affected the mailboxes of thousands of people around the world in 2001.