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Anna Kournikova: How a ‘marketing monster’ seduced the world
By Sheena McKenzie, for CNN

Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT) November 9, 2015
The Russian player recreates Marilyn Monroe's legendary pose during the filming of an Adidas commercial in Los Angeles.  
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
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11 of 20
Kournikova and Hingis claimed their second major doubles win at the 2002 Australian Open.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
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12 of 20
Here, she appears alongside tennis greats Serena Williams and Andre Agassi during a children's tennis event in New York. 
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
13 of 20
Kournikova signs a giant billboard of herself at the Australian Open in 2003.<br />"I remember back in those days, every magazine cover, every newspaper's back pages, would quite often have photos of her," said PR and marketing consultant for pro-athletes, <a href="http://sixof1pr.com/" target="_blank">David Skilling. </a><br />"So for tennis, and women's tennis, that was quite an achievement at the time."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
14 of 20
Kournikova left the WTA tour in 2003, having become one of the most marketable sportswomen in history.<br />Here, she models an Adidas outfit during a photoshoot.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
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While she might have left the WTA Tour, Kournikova continued to make appearances at charity events. Here, she poses with pop singer Rihanna at the Arthur Ashe Kids Day in 2005.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
16 of 20
"In terms of sports marketability, there is a limit to how good people look," explained Skilling.<br />"There had to be a certain level of skill, to warrant brands throwing that kind of money at her."<br />Here, Kournikova poses at the Adidas Performance Store, in New York.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
17 of 20
Kournikova competes in the Mercedes-Benz Classic charity event, held in Florida.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
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18 of 20
The beautiful tennis player started dating pop singer Enrique Iglesias after appearing in the video for his 2001 single "Escape." 
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
19 of 20
"She's almost like a bit of an enigma," said Skilling. "She came and made such a big impact and was at the front of everything for a long time — and then retired so early. <br />"It's almost like, 'was she really there?' 'What happened to this girl?' It wasn't like it was a long period of time where she slowed down gradually. <br />"So I think that creates a kind of mystique around her."<br />Here, Kournikova appears at a BAFTA awards evening in 2011.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
20 of 20
Throughout her career, tennis player Anna Kournikova shot to fame as much for her model looks, as on-court success.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
1 of 20
Legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri (far left) started training Kournikova at his Florida Academy when she was just 10 years old.<br />"When I hear the name 'Anna Kournikova' now, the phrase that springs to my mind is: 'She's my baby,'" said Bollettieri.<br />"She started the big wave of players from Russia — don't forget that."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
2 of 20
"I've seen them all, but this one actually frightens me," Bollettieri told the<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/23/sports/tennis-the-molding-of-a-tennis-prodigy.html" target="_blank"> New York Times in 1992.</a><br />"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. We've had Andre. We've had Courier. We've had Seles, but I can say without hesitation that when I see how this girl can play, at age 10, I'm shocked."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
3 of 20
Kournikova reached the world No. 1 spot in doubles, yet a singles title always eluded her.<br />"She was an excellent volleyer, had a very good serve, and could cover her side of the court in a brilliant way," said Bollettieri.<br />"But when you have to cover the whole court in singles, that lack of weapon, that lack of a killer shot, I think that was probably the reason she didn't win a grand slam in singles."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
4 of 20
Kournikova holds the 1995 ITF Junior World Championship trophy, during a dinner at Roland Garros in Paris, in 1996.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
5 of 20
A baby-faced Kournikova was just 16 when she reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1997. She was knocked out of the tournament by her future doubles partner Martina Hingis.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
6 of 20
Kournikova is pictured during the French Open at Roland Garros, Paris.<br />"I think she did a really good job of balancing being a little girl, growing into a woman, and understanding that there was something special about her looks and her charisma, and how to use that for the betterment of the game," said Ken Merritt, who also coached Kournikova at Bollettieri's famous <a href="https://www.imgacademy.com/sports/bollettieri-tennis" target="_blank">Florida Academy.</a><br />"She changed the women's game of tennis. And I think that in itself makes it a very successful tennis career."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
7 of 20
Kournikova and Hingis won their first grand slam doubles title at the 1999 Australian Open in Melbourne.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
8 of 20
Kournikova blows a kiss to her coach during the first round of the 2000 Australian Open.<br />"When we were at a major tournament, if Anna Kournikova was practicing, and there was not a big name match on at the stadium, all the guys were there watching Anna Kournikova," said Bollettieri.<br />"She put the show on, baby. She put the show on."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
9 of 20
Kournikova models Adidas' U.S. Open outfit in Florida.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
10 of 20
The Russian player recreates Marilyn Monroe's legendary pose during the filming of an Adidas commercial in Los Angeles.  
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
11 of 20
Kournikova and Hingis claimed their second major doubles win at the 2002 Australian Open.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
12 of 20
Here, she appears alongside tennis greats Serena Williams and Andre Agassi during a children's tennis event in New York. 
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
13 of 20
Kournikova signs a giant billboard of herself at the Australian Open in 2003.<br />"I remember back in those days, every magazine cover, every newspaper's back pages, would quite often have photos of her," said PR and marketing consultant for pro-athletes, <a href="http://sixof1pr.com/" target="_blank">David Skilling. </a><br />"So for tennis, and women's tennis, that was quite an achievement at the time."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
14 of 20
Kournikova left the WTA tour in 2003, having become one of the most marketable sportswomen in history.<br />Here, she models an Adidas outfit during a photoshoot.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
15 of 20
While she might have left the WTA Tour, Kournikova continued to make appearances at charity events. Here, she poses with pop singer Rihanna at the Arthur Ashe Kids Day in 2005.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
16 of 20
"In terms of sports marketability, there is a limit to how good people look," explained Skilling.<br />"There had to be a certain level of skill, to warrant brands throwing that kind of money at her."<br />Here, Kournikova poses at the Adidas Performance Store, in New York.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
17 of 20
Kournikova competes in the Mercedes-Benz Classic charity event, held in Florida.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
18 of 20
The beautiful tennis player started dating pop singer Enrique Iglesias after appearing in the video for his 2001 single "Escape." 
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
19 of 20
"She's almost like a bit of an enigma," said Skilling. "She came and made such a big impact and was at the front of everything for a long time — and then retired so early. <br />"It's almost like, 'was she really there?' 'What happened to this girl?' It wasn't like it was a long period of time where she slowed down gradually. <br />"So I think that creates a kind of mystique around her."<br />Here, Kournikova appears at a BAFTA awards evening in 2011.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
20 of 20
Throughout her career, tennis player Anna Kournikova shot to fame as much for her model looks, as on-court success.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
1 of 20
Legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri (far left) started training Kournikova at his Florida Academy when she was just 10 years old.<br />"When I hear the name 'Anna Kournikova' now, the phrase that springs to my mind is: 'She's my baby,'" said Bollettieri.<br />"She started the big wave of players from Russia — don't forget that."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
2 of 20
"I've seen them all, but this one actually frightens me," Bollettieri told the<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/1992/04/23/sports/tennis-the-molding-of-a-tennis-prodigy.html" target="_blank"> New York Times in 1992.</a><br />"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. We've had Andre. We've had Courier. We've had Seles, but I can say without hesitation that when I see how this girl can play, at age 10, I'm shocked."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
3 of 20
Kournikova reached the world No. 1 spot in doubles, yet a singles title always eluded her.<br />"She was an excellent volleyer, had a very good serve, and could cover her side of the court in a brilliant way," said Bollettieri.<br />"But when you have to cover the whole court in singles, that lack of weapon, that lack of a killer shot, I think that was probably the reason she didn't win a grand slam in singles."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
4 of 20
Kournikova holds the 1995 ITF Junior World Championship trophy, during a dinner at Roland Garros in Paris, in 1996.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
5 of 20
A baby-faced Kournikova was just 16 when she reached the semifinals at Wimbledon in 1997. She was knocked out of the tournament by her future doubles partner Martina Hingis.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
6 of 20
Kournikova is pictured during the French Open at Roland Garros, Paris.<br />"I think she did a really good job of balancing being a little girl, growing into a woman, and understanding that there was something special about her looks and her charisma, and how to use that for the betterment of the game," said Ken Merritt, who also coached Kournikova at Bollettieri's famous <a href="https://www.imgacademy.com/sports/bollettieri-tennis" target="_blank">Florida Academy.</a><br />"She changed the women's game of tennis. And I think that in itself makes it a very successful tennis career."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
7 of 20
Kournikova and Hingis won their first grand slam doubles title at the 1999 Australian Open in Melbourne.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
8 of 20
Kournikova blows a kiss to her coach during the first round of the 2000 Australian Open.<br />"When we were at a major tournament, if Anna Kournikova was practicing, and there was not a big name match on at the stadium, all the guys were there watching Anna Kournikova," said Bollettieri.<br />"She put the show on, baby. She put the show on."
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
9 of 20
Kournikova models Adidas' U.S. Open outfit in Florida.
20 photos: Anna Kournikova through the years
Show Caption
10 of 20
Story highlights
How did Anna Kournikova become one of history’s most marketable sportswomen?
Interview with former coaches about what industry learned from her experience
(CNN)The first time legendary tennis coach Nick Bollettieri laid eyes on a 10-year-old Anna Kournikova, his initial thought was: “Holy mackerel.”

Even after a quarter of a century, the exact time and place of meeting is etched in the 84-year-old’s mind with the precision of a radar gun — 8.50 a.m., Court 40.

“This little girl comes and jumps in my ball basket and says, ‘I’m here for the lesson!'” recalls the famously fiery coach behind such world number No. 1s as Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and Monica Seles.

“I thought, ‘Who the hell is this?'” adds Bollettieri, the image of a confident little girl with blonde pigtails becoming sharper in his mind.

“I didn’t yell at her — because it was unbelievable to see the spunk of a little girl just coming and saying ‘I’m here. I’m ready.'”

Whether one of history’s most marketable sportswomen was also ready for the intense media scrutiny that followed is another matter.

Coach Nick Bollettieri gives instructions to a young Anna Kournikova during training at his academy.
Coach Nick Bollettieri gives instructions to a young Anna Kournikova during training at his academy.
Just over a decade later, at the age of 22, Kournikova left the WTA Tour amid serious back injuries. She had reached No. 8 in the world, won two doubles grand slams alongside Martina Hingis, and made the semifinals of Wimbledon when she was just 16 years old.

Yet the most prized title of all, and the one that always eluded her, was a singles trophy.

Poker hands have since been named after the Russian beauty — “A-K: Looks great, but doesn’t win.”

Then there were David Letterman’s “Anna Kournikova Play of the Day” gags, which involved such belittling shots as her drinking from a water bottle.

Sex sells
But apart from her often overlooked sporting achievements, Kournikova, who declined an interview with CNN, won in ways the sport had rarely seen before.

She won sponsorship deals worth millions and the affections of people who didn’t ordinarily watch tennis. Hell, she even won the Internet, becoming the most Googled sportswoman on the planet.

One of Kournikova's most memorable advertising campaigns was for Berlei's shock absorber sports bras.
One of Kournikova’s most memorable advertising campaigns was for Berlei’s shock absorber sports bras.
Meanwhile, the infamous “Anna Kournikova” computer virus lured victims with an email purporting to show nude images of the celebrity sportswoman. So popular was the 2001 bug, it even appeared in an episode of “Friends.”

As any teenage boy who had a Kournikova poster tacked to their bedroom wall will tell you, the beautiful young woman transcended tennis.

“Construction workers were watching tennis, business people were watching tennis. It wasn’t just normal country club corporate clients that were watching tennis now,” says Ken Merritt, who also coached Kournikova at Bollettieri’s famous Florida Academy.

“Women’s tennis had a lot of TV deals after she was playing. There’s a lot of things Anna did for the sport that went well beyond the box scores of wins or losses.”

The global appetite for “Brand Kournikova” appeared insatiable, and happy to feed it was a brave new 1990s Internet age circulating the player’s model looks far beyond sport’s back pages.

“Women tennis players had quite often been objectified or seen as sex symbols in a way that overtook what they were actually doing — but I feel like at that time it really went up a notch,” says PR and marketing consultant for pro athletes, David Skilling.

“And I don’t think that was necessarily Anna’s fault. It’s just the way the media took it and ran with it.”

Tournament organizers were quick to capitalize on her celebrity, often putting Kournikova on courts much bigger than someone of her ranking would suggest, remembers tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg.

“I think a lot of other players were jealous of her, perhaps deservingly so,” he said.

“She got a lot more attention, and a lot more endorsement money than a lot of players who were better than her.”

Opponents also had to contend with Kournikova’s dedicated army of admirers, and Bollettieri hints that perhaps the stunning sportswoman wasn’t so averse to encouraging them.

Kournikova might not have won a singles title — but she won a lot of admirers.
Kournikova might not have won a singles title — but she won a lot of admirers.
“When we were at a major tournament, if Anna Kournikova was practicing, and there was not a big-name match on at the stadium, all the guys were there watching Anna Kournikova,” says Bollettieri.

“She put the show on, baby. She put the show on.”

A ‘marketing monster’
Lucrative as this media spotlight was, Skilling believes it may have also distracted the teenager from the singles trophy she never quite held aloft.

If Kournikova was one of Skilling’s clients today, the marketing manager says he’d limit her media exposure, spend more time concentrating on her game, and tone down the sex symbol status.

“It turned into a marketing monster that ended up eating itself. It felt like it was too much too quick. And it just wasn’t sustainable,” adds Skilling.

It turned into a marketing monster that ended up eating itself

David Skilling, PR consultant

“A professional athlete has such a short window where they need to be at the top of their game. So if you’ve got those distractions going on, it’s going to affect your game — it can’t not.”

The best managers are the ones who can divide their player’s time between sponsorship, teamwork, physical, and mental development, added Bollettieri.

“If you don’t have the total picture, it can hurt you,” he said.

Which is easy to say when you don’t have the carrot of million-dollar advertising deals dangling in front of you — a temptation which often rests as much with the parents, as their teenage star.