LONDON — Now that we’re into the second week of Wimbledon, the question begs to be asked: Will we actually talk tennis instead of underwear?
Not that underwear doesn’t have its place. But usually that place is, well, under something. Based on the media here, you’d have thought it was worn on the outside — particularly if it belongs to Anna Kournikova.
Although Wimbledon is generally regarded as the most important tennis tournament in the world, a day can’t go by here without the newspapers’ running action photos of “Sexy Anna’s knickers” peeking out from under her tennis dress. Reaching for a serve. Bending over for a shot. Slipping and sprawling in the grass. Look! Underwear!
Click, click, click.
Now, I know the girl is cute. But I’m not sure this is why she practices her backhand every day. Kournikova, 18, is a supremely promising Russian player. She is also the female friend of Sergei Fedorov and, depending on whom you follow in the British media: 1) “The Blonde Goddess” or 2) “The best thing to come out of Russia since vodka.”
One London writer actually began his story this way: “Dozens of leering, sweaty, middle-aged men (came) to catch a glimpse of the most beautiful sight at Wimbledon …and that was just the press.”
Hmm. Whoever invented the phrase “no sex please, we’re British” obviously wasn’t British.
Not that the leering attention is limited to Kournikova. France’s Mary Pierce is continually referred to as “The Body.” Steffi Graf must read about her pin-up poster physique. Sixteen-year-old Jelena Dokic, who upset Martina Hingis in the first round, is already called “beauty” in parts of the media.
Here’s how bad it gets: Over the weekend, the Daily Mail, which is a pretty reputable newspaper, actually ran a two-page, full-color “Derriere Quiz,” which featured rear-end undies shots of no fewer than 11 female players, along with hints to match the tush with the tennis.
Somehow, I don’t think you’ll find that in the Free Press’ The Way We Live section.
Anna wins hearts, not tournaments
Still, nothing compares to the fuss over Kournikova, who gets Princess Di attention in this steamed-up British media. Her tanned legs. Her blond hair. Her halter tops. Her bare shoulders….
Wait! I need to catch my breath.
Why do I feel like every time I read something about this woman, I’m picking up a romance novel? What makes the whole thing even crazier is that Kournikova has never won a professional tournament, and at Wimbledon she was barely seeded, at No. 17, and was shaky in several early-round victories against lesser opponents.
Not that anyone here noticed. Young men waited hours for her matches. They gushed about her serve — how her skirt hikes up when she lets one fly.
And of course, when the European media surround her in a press conference, there’s one question about tennis for every two about her clothes, Sergei
(don’t ask me, Wings fans, I have no updates, other than the report is that she is wearing a big ring) and, of course, her sexiness.
Enough! Kournikova may not be the world’s most sympathetic figure. She is not pleasant to strangers — to media she is often downright nasty — and she has, in the past, encouraged the wolf-whistles and once commented on a picture of her rear end by saying, “I thought it looked magnificent.”
But none of that means she deserves this treatment by the media. It’s fine to enjoy a player’s looks. But leading your sports stories with it is absurd.
For one thing, if a man does this, it’s damned unfair, since when was the last time you read a sports story by a woman that began, “Michael Jordan, with sweat running sensually down his high cheekbones and bulging biceps, kept the female fans panting as he rose like a phoenix, his shorts riding high on his thighs….”
Yuck, right? But that’s pretty much the tenor of the stories here. Here’s an opening line from a recent story on Kournikova: “She has a golden long mane of platted hair, a tanned and trim body barely covered by her mini dress, and a sparkling array of white teeth which could light up a room….”
What’s next, Love Letters to the Editor?
Or maybe what the Sunday Sport tabloid did over the weekend, which was to reprint naked phony photos of Kournikova that had run on the Internet.
That’s in your sports section?
Kournikova vs. Venus — and it’s not mud-wrestling
Kournikova was scheduled to play Venus Williams on Monday, but the match was rained out, which was fine, since this whole country needs a cold shower.
Which means the match will take place today. This should be billed as a whale of a tennis showdown. Both players are 18. Both have the raw talent to win the tournament. Both could be in the game for years, and thus another women’s rivalry so desperately missing on the men’s side of tennis has a chance to blossom.
But around here, they’ll be focusing on legs, thighs, hair and teeth.
Not to be prudish, but in this case, I think we Yanks — supposedly the sexed-up group — might have a healthier attitude about it all. I don’t know how many cameras will follow Kournikova today. But I do know how to find the American photographers.
They’ll be the ones shooting from the front.
MITCH ALBOM can be reached at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Mitch’s radio show, “Albom in the Afternoon,” 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM