It seems like a long time ago now, but there was a point when Anna Kournikova was most famous for playing tennis. Now the Russian beauty is best known for her swimsuit spreads (another of which appears in this month's issue of Maxim), high-profile relationships and for being the go-to reference for any overhyped athlete with a pretty face, but it wasn't always that way.
For a few years, Kournikova was the "hot tennis player" not "the tennis player who's hot." When she made a deep run at Wimbledon in 1997 at the age of 16, it was supposed to be a harbinger of tennis greatness to come. Kournikova was a product of Nick Bolletieri's famed tennis school and had become the youngest winner of the prestigious Junior Orange Bowl tournament. She was cute, sure, but there was the expectation that she'd be able to back up the hype that developed because of her looks.
It never happened, of course, and now Kournikova carries around her lack of a WTA singles title like a scarlet letter. There's a segment of the sporting public that resents Kournikova's off-court success because they don't believe she earned it on the court, but the fallacy of that logic has never made sense. Kournikova got into the public consciousness because she accomplished something. She wasn't Serena Williams or Chris Evert, but getting to No. 8 in the world and winning two Grand Slam doubles tournaments are achievements of which to be proud. She did something. Can Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton or Snooki say the same?
Say what you will about Anna, but if you're reading this sentence right now, you're clearly interested in her as well.
Still only 29 years old (two months older than Roger Federer), Kournikova has been off the WTA tour since 2003. She still finds time for tennis, having played on the fan-friendly World Team Tennis circuit for the past eight summers (she currently is the headliner of the St. Louis Aces) and occasionally playing exhibitions (earlier this month, she and former doubles partner Martina Hingis faced off against Mats Wilander and Pat Cash at the U.S. Open).
Kournikova recently became a U.S. citizen, a decision she made because of her work with the USO. "You know, I've always considered myself half Russian and half American," she said in an Australian Daily Mail story. "It never seemed to really matter if I had a passport or not. But when I started working with the USO and the troops overseas, it just seemed the logical next step."
She has dated singer Enrique Iglesias for eight years, but the two have no plans to marry.
Other popular stories on Yahoo! Sports
• Denver Broncos dealt with another tragic death
• Mastermind behind fake soccer team revealed
• MLB player knocks down fan trespassing on field | See the photos