Kournikova kicks off in the third division

Julia Harcourt,Georgia
Wednesday 29 January 2014 04:44

She may be the most photographed sportswoman in the world, but Anna Kournikova has decided the only way to rebuild her career is far away from the top-tier circuit.

While the likes of Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin and Jennifer Capriati tune up for the French Open at the German Open in Berlin where the total prize pot is $1.2m (£750,000), the woman who has made more from her looks than her racket is playing in a $25,000 (£15,600) tournament in America's deep south. The Russian, whose world ranking has slipped from eight to 72, turned down a wild card invitation to Berlin to put her injured side to the test in the Cloister Cup here on Wednesday.

In tennis terms, the tournament is third division, but this resort in Georgia is not. Renowned for its golf course – the 2001 Walker Cup was played here – it is also a honeymooners' nirvana. Sir Winston Churchill's daughter, Sarah, was married here in 1949 and 36,000 newlyweds have spent their first days together at the hotel.

Kournikova, recovering from a muscle tear, beat Maria Fernanda Alves 4-6, 6-4, 3-0 – the Brazilian retiring after injuring her left thigh.

"It's not the best match I've played," said Kournikova, who double-faulted seven times in a match that lasted two hours and 30 minutes. "That's why I'm here. I need to play as many matches as I can."

The was no star treatment either. She fetched her own balls, was scolded by officials for listening to music and text messaging on her phone during an injury time-out, and was badgered by a chair umpire she found almost as irritating as the local sand gnats.

Given a warning for delaying play after going up 5-4 in the second set, the millionairess, who has never won a major title, said: "I'm scared."

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