Generally I find tennis pretty boring these days, dominated by power-hitting with souped-up racquets. But I found myself watching the US Open over the weekend and thinking fondly of Anna Kournikova.

I know not many people associate the name Kournikova with tennis, at least not any more, but when you think about it, she was a trailblazer.

It doesn’t matter that she never won a tournament; that the crowded practice court was to ogle her looks and her glamour, not her ball-striking ability. It doesn’t even matter that her career ended prematurely when Anna retired, married a rock star, and became a guest star in comedy films. She had done her job, proving that image could be tennis’ saviour.

And Saturday at the US Open proved how far it had come. While Maria Sharapova won her 2nd major, wearing a black frock that was especially designed for night matches, women’s most successful player of all time, Martina “I have a nice personality” Navratilova, retired after her 59th major with barely a whimper in comparison.

But considering the major sponsor of the US Open was Ralph Lauren, we probably shouldn’t be surprised. Nor the fact that Sharapova wore black-patent leather open-toe pumps with three-inch stiletto heels and a copper sundress to the after-match interview.

Sharapova is the queen of the new breed of attractive players with others such as Daniela Hantuchova and Vera Zvonareva who pose in swimsuits, create perfume and design clothes. They have crossed the divide from sports celebrity to celebrity and even people who once had no interest in the game find themselves looking more at the hitter than the ball, and God knows what some think during those 101 decibel grunts.

Tennis may have lost its beauty, but the players are making up for it.

Peter Fray

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