PR PLAY OF THE WEEK: USA Network, Anna serve up a PR winner

NEW YORK: No Williams sisters. No Pete Sampras. No respite from the rain.

NEW YORK: No Williams sisters. No Pete Sampras. No respite from the rain.

The 2003 US Open was on its way to being a washout until the USA Network, which holds the cable rights to the Grand Slam tennis tournament, exhibited a stroke of genius by hiring Anna Kournikova as an on-camera reporter during the event.

The volleying vixen - whose popularity seems to soar as her game deteriorates - was hired to add some "fun and sizzle in our coverage," said network SVP Gordon Beck.

While a balky back kept Anna from entering the draw, she was perfectly capable of holding a microphone, showing off her multimillion-dollar visage, and lobbing some easy questions toward her fellow players.

Although the quality of her reporting skills was unsurprisingly subpar, the coverage she generated for the event and the network was huge. Media outlets could not resist criticizing the blonde bombshell - the New York Post went so far as to say, "Anna's TV gig makes her tennis look good" - but regardless, it got them talking about a tournament that was in danger of being largely ignored.

And what of Anna? Though her reporting career lasted all of three days - she left the assignment, citing discomfort with having to interview her peers - the stint serves as yet another example of Kournikova managing to dominate center court without lifting a racket. The 22-year-old shrewdly exhibited an ability to capture the public's attention without overstaying her welcome. While her on-court struggles have become fodder for those who feel she's the most overrated player in the sport's history, Kournikova is a first-ballot Hall of Famer when it comes to the publicity game.

Will USA ever win a ratings battle with its Open coverage? Will Kournikova ever capture that elusive singles title? The answer to both may very well be no. However, for serving up some excitement for an event that desperately needed it, we award Anna and the USA Network our PR Play of the Week.

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