|Hey, have you seen Anna?|
By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff
Editor's Note: With tennis temptress Anna Kournikova scheduled to play a minor-league tournament this week in Sea Island, Ga., Page 2 gave Jeff Merron the assignment of a lifetime: Hit the road and cover Anna's every move. Here is Part 2 of Merron's quest to catch a glimpse of the world's most famous model/tennis player. If you weren't here Thursday, you missed Part 1.
I had no clue how I would meet Anna K on Thursday at the Cloister Cup, or interview her, as my editors requested. I figured I'd believe what I'd read -- aloof. I figured she'd be overwhelmed with press and paparazzi, surrounded by an entourage, impossible to get near.
I was wrong. Wrong about Anna (she seems like a nice person to me). Wrong about finding her (she walked right into the pro shop, like normal players do). Wrong about the press and paparazzi. I was the only 'press,' at least at 9 in the morning. Wrong about just about everything else.
Anna was at the Cloister Cup, a small, USTA Women's Professional Circuit Event with a total purse of only $25,000, to recover from an abductor injury and to ready herself for the French Open, which begins June 2. Like the French Open, the Cloister Cup is also played on clay. And after a month off, she told The Associated Press, she was in Sea Island because, "I need to play as many matches as I can."
This was a small boon for Sea Island, a posh, pricey resort that includes three golf courses, including two that Golf Digest ranks among the top 100 in America. Sea Island has hosted (and will host again this year) the UBS Warburg Cup, a $3 million Ryder Cup-like event sanctioned by the European Seniors Tour.
"We've been getting a lot of attention for this event," says Dickie Anderson, the tennis director at Sea Island.
"Because of Anna?"
I'd run into Dickie many times during the day, and we often stopped to chat. Early, when I asked where Anna would be playing her second-round match, he said, "Court 12. That's our 'Stadium Court.' It has some bleachers and seats about 400."
He seems kind of apologetic, and also proud of the tourney's relative success. "Maybe they'll start taking us more seriously now," he says.
I started slowly, gathering my press credential and asking Emma in the pro shop, "Have you talked to Anna?"
"She's come in here. She doesn't socialize much."
"Were there lots of people around her?"
"Do you mind if I take your picture? I'm taking pictures of people who've talked to Anna."
"I didn't really talk to her."
"That's okay. Anyone who's even seen her."
"I've seen her, but I haven't talked to her. But she seems very nice, when she's been in the pro shop."
I talk to Dickie again. I'm brainstorming ways to at least get some evidence that I've been in the same general vicinity of Anna.
"Can you get me a used practice ball?"
"Sure, I think I can do that."
"Or a sweaty towel."
"Or a pillowcase."
"I don't think that will be possible."
"But," Dickie says, "one guy who was here yesterday -- she spit out her gum, and one guy almost dove into the garbage can to get it. But he didn't, even though his friend said, 'That could be worth $25,000 on eBay, dude!'"
"That's Anna's coach. But I didn't tell you."
I make the motion that my lips are a lockbox.
He's standing in the pro shop, looking bored. Harold Solomon. A top-10 player in the 1970s, Solomon helped resuscitate Jennifer Capriati's career.
I slink around a bit with my camera, make sure the flash is off, and take a picture of him. I'm thinking this may be as good as it gets.
But it isn't. I introduce myself. We shake hands. He said Anna had a good match yesterday, working out the kinks from her injury, "got a lot of good, hard balls to hit."
I stand outside the pro shop, waiting. Next thing I know, Harold and Anna walk by, quickly, on their way to the practice court.
I follow. They put their equipment and tennis balls and bottled water down on a glass patio table beside the court.
I stand there and look at Anna. She's wearing a blue T-shirt and mid-calf warm-ups. She's bigger than I thought she'd be. Her legs look strong.
I'm not stunned by her beauty. Anna is pretty -- very pretty. But that's it. I've seen three or four players already this morning who I'd also put in the "very pretty" category. Maybe I'm jaded, but I don't think so. It isn't like I hang out at the Playboy Mansion or chic Manhattan clubs or anything.
Later on, I give this some thought. I had read the comments some high school spectators made the day before, as reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We're here to check out her strokes," one kid said. Words uttered, according to the AJC, "with a sly smile."
Also, I'm sure, it's because Anna, whose image has been captured by some of the world's best photographers, simply looks stunning under a good camera's gaze.
She preps, putting on her zinc oxide.
There's action on the court behind them. Janet Lee, ranked 214th in the world, is playing her second-round match against Lilia Osterlih, ranked 229th.
"Janet Lee -- she can play. She's the sweetest girl. She's just too nice," Anna says to Harold.
I introduce myself to Anna, tell her I'm from ESPN.com.
"How did you get here? It's pretty far for you guys, isn't it?"
"I live in Georgia, so I drove. You're pretty close, aren't you?"
"Yes, but we flew, from Miami."
She puts on the white stuff.
"To answer your question, I burn really easily."
I hadn't asked.
I scribble some notes.
I am the only one here watching her practice!
She sits down after about 15 minutes of hitting, and just a few feet from me, lifts up the left side of her T-shirt.
I can't believe it. I look away.
"Is it a mosquito bite?" asks her coach. I think that's what he asked, but I'm not quite sure. Maybe he's referring to her abductor injury, which is on her left side.
I still can't look. I feel like I'm violating her privacy. Finally, I take a sideways glance.
It's less of a thrill than I thought it would be.
I watch her practice for a while longer, then think, "This is cool."
"Sorry," I say to her. "I feel strange about just standing here."
"It's okay. You've been nice about it. Other people, they just stick a camera in your face. I'm like, 'I'm sorry, you think you know me, but you don't. You just know my name.'"
"I think some athletes get a bad rap that way," I say.
It's true. I do feel that way.
"Yeah, it's like, how would you like it if I came in your office and bothered you? I'm working here ... But you're nice."
She practices a while longer.
The folks in the pro shop are wonderful. I tell them I've met Anna. They introduce me to Gogo, who designed the trophies for the winners -- including a $1,050 necklace made out of rattlesnake vertebrae.
Gogo is pretty interesting herself.
She lives on Cumberland Island half the year, and on Martha's Vineyard the other half.
She's sold jewelry to the Clintons. Bill is nice, she says. Chelsea wears her jewelry, she adds.
She arranged the wedding of John Kennedy, Jr. (an old friend of hers), and Carolyn Bessette, which took place on nearby Cumberland Island. She also designed the couple's wedding rings. "My plane landed on Martha's Vineyard 10 minutes before his went down," she adds.
"She's one of those one-name people," says one of the girls who sells Gogo's stuff at a table. "Just Gogo."
Her name is Gogo Ferguson.
"I don't know how I got that name. Maybe it's the first thing I said or something. But it wasn't from being a Go-Go dancer in the 1970s or 80s."
Gogo is the tourney's sponsor. I dismiss this as a nod to her creation and donation of the expensive winner's trophies, until I look her name up later on the Internet. Turns out she's the great-granddaughter of Thomas Carnegie, Andrew's younger brother. That's old steel money of Gates-like magnitude.
I step into the pro shop again. This is a small place. The pro shop is the center of activity.
"Have you met Rosa yet?" one of the women there asks me.
A cute, tiny dog is cuddled in someone's arms.
"She belongs to one of the players. She's been here all week."
Rosa belongs to Alyssa Cohen. I snap a few photos. I've now met three critters here who go by one name -- Anna, Gogo, and Rosa.
I've enjoyed my time with all of them. But -- call me a sucker -- Rosa's stolen my heart. At least for now.
An opportunity missed.
Anna comes back into the hospitality room.
"Anna, do you want to use this?"
"No, that's okay. Don't worry."
Finally, the one computer provided for the players is available.
I'm sitting next to her while she surfs the web. She's still got her headphones on, and is singing along. Totally unselfconscious. Having fun.
She logs on to the official Enrique Iglesias Web site.
She's in the community area.
I am not making this up.
I am spying on Anna surfing the web.
I have sunk pretty low.
Fifteen minutes later, she's still surfing the web.
There's something comforting about it. Anna surfs the web to kill time. Just like the rest of us. Weird. Until yesterday, as far as I knew, she existed only on the Web. But she's real. And I know this because I see her surfing the Web.
Now I'm way too deep into philosophical thought. It all seems cosmically impossible.
Then Anna bursts out laughing. She's looking at a photo of herself in mid-swing.
"What's so funny?"
"They are writing in this chat room, 'Have you seen how she pads the left side of her bra?' Can you believe that? Like I'm going to worry about that when I'm playing."
She pauses. "Can you imagine how uncomfortable it would be to wear a padded bra on the court for 2½ hours?"
"You read that stuff?"
"I'm just killing time. I can't believe these people have nothing better to do."
Harold, her coach, approaches. The Frazier match, the one before Anna's, is dragging on. Anna and I sit, side by side, on our computers, her surfing, me watching and writing.
"Look at this," she says, going back to Enrique's site. "He broke the record!"
To her coach, again. "Can you believe they are saying I wear a padded bra? Before they were saying my boobs were bigger because I was pregnant. Now it's a push-up bra. I'm 21. Maybe I'm just growing."
She really is having a lot of fun with this. No kidding. All celebs should have this much fun with the stuff people say about them.
Later, she laughs again. She's reading Steve Hummer's Atlanta Journal-Constitution article about her first round match. She reads out loud to me, "'There was the pouty Kournikova. The distracted Kournikova. The determined Kournikova ... ' Can you believe this? They have such imagination."
"Does it bother you?"
"No, I'm on the front page. But I just can't believe how they can write this. I wish I had such imagination."
She reads on. 'She brought it all with her to the fringes of professional tennis, along with a nice little blue outfit that refused to quite cover her midriff. If her belly button wanted to come out and play, who were we to argue?'
She laughs. "How do they come up with this?"
Perhaps Mr. Hummer, a fine writer, got some inspiration from "The Eugene O'Neill Oak," which is right near the courts. O'Neill, the oak's placard says, wrote "A Touch of the Poet" here on Sea Island.
Kournikova beats Volekova easily, 6-0, 6-2. The match takes only an hour. Tomorrow (Friday) she'll be up against fifth-seeded Sunitha Rao in the quarterfinals.
But I won't be there. Real life calls, and I have no choice but to answer.
Goodbye, Sea Island.
And thanks, Anna. It's sappy for a Page 2 guy to write, but the world seems like a better place to me, right now. And it's because of you.
(And Rosa, too.)