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Thursday, May 8, 2003
Updated: May 9, 10:44 AM ET
Desperately seeking Anna

By Jeff Merron
Page 2 staff

Editor's Note: With tennis temptress Anna Kournikova scheduled to play a minor-league tournament this week in Sea Island, Ga., Page 2 gave Jeff Merron the assignment of a lifetime: Hit the road and cover Anna's every move. Here is Part 1 of Merron's quest to catch a glimpse of the world's most famous model/tennis player. Part 2 will run Friday.

SEA ISLAND, Ga. -- The call came in Tuesday afternoon.

Anna Kournikova
Your assignment is to track this woman, Jeff. And, yes, we are serious.
"We've got an assignment for you. Anna's playing in the Cloister Cup."

"What? Is this a tournament sponsored by nuns?"

"No, no. How far are you from Sea Island?"

"About six hours."

"Go. We need something on Anna. Her first match is Wednesday afternoon."

"Page 2 always needs something on Anna."

"Guilty as charged."

"I can't get there by Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday night at the earliest."

"That's fine. You'll catch her Thursday."

"You think she'll make it past the first round?"

"Let me put you on hold. I'll get our tennis editor and see what she thinks."

Pause.

Jeff Merron
Armed with an Anna story from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Page 2's Jeff Merron begins his quest.
"Will Anna make it past the first round in the Cloister Cup?"

Pause.

"It's a small tournament," says our tennis editor. "The purse is only $25,000. She's seeded second."

Pause again.

"There's a chance," the tennis editor finally concludes.

That seals it. I'm on my way.

Getting clearance from the tower
But first, I had to tell my wife, Jackie.

"Hey, I just got a great assignment, to cover a tennis tournament down on Sea Island."

"That's great! But why this tournament?"

"Well ... it's not really the tournament I'm covering. I'm going to do a story on Anna Kournikova."

"You're not going!"

Ready for takeoff
She was just kidding.

The next 24 hours are a whirlwind of untangling schedules, checking for hotels, downloading directions from Yahoo Maps, and all that kind of logistical jazz.

I also tried to find all the information I could on the Cloister Cup. I'm a professional researcher. I'm pretty good with using the Web, and I have access to Nexis. Surely, I'd have a stack of reading to do.

AJC
The headline from the AJC sports section seems to sum up Jeff's quest perfectly.
Hardly. A couple of items in the Brunswick (Ga.) News. An article on ESPN.com's tennis page. A little blurb on Sea Island's Web site.

I called the tournament's media relations person, who told me I better hurry if I want to catch Anna.

"She plays at 5 o'clock. How far away are you?"

"Seven hours."

"You're not going to make it."

"Well, maybe I'll catch her Thursday. You expecting a big crowd?"

"The tournament's only open to club members and visitors. And the stands only seat 400. So, no. Are you staying on the Island?"

"Um, no. That's a little too pricey for my ESPN expense account."

The least expensive room on the Island costs $400 a night.

"We are getting a fair amount of interest from the press. There's even someone from Taiwan. Seems strange to me, but he's legit."

Fit for a king ... or at least a prince
When I get to the "King and Prince," a less-expensive hotel about 15 minutes from Sea Island, I first make a phone call to the folks running the tournament.

"How did Anna do?"

"She won 4-6, 6-4, 3-0. Her opponent retired with cramps."

Whew. Thank God for dehydration.

"When's Anna playing tomorrow?"

"She's on third after 10."

"How's that?"

"There are two matches scheduled before hers. Plan on noon or 1 o'clock."

Touched by the queen
I'm trying to gather interview questions for Anna.

"Is Enrique there?" my sister asks.

"The story's about Kournikova."

"Yeah, I know. Is Enrique there?"

My sister yells to my nephew, "Your uncle's trailing Anna Kournikova!"

"That's the best view of her," he replies, then he takes the phone.

"Hey, Bub," he says. We've been calling each other "Bub" (as in the 1950s New Yorker-ish, "Hey, Bub, where'd you get your driver's license? A cracker jack box?") since he was in kindergarten.

Now he's 17, on his way to MIT in the fall. I ask him if he has any questions he'd like to me to ask Anna.

"How about, 'Would you go out with my nephew?' "

"Why would she want to go out with you? She doesn't even know who you are."

"Well, I'm pretty good looking. I got into MIT. I'm athletic."

Uh, OK.

"Would you like me to get you anything? If I can get, say, her pillowcase from last night?"

Anna Kournikova
Finally! Jeff catches a glimpse of Anna in the flesh.
"Yes!"

"What about a sweaty towel, or something like that? I'm trying to get something she touched."

"Anything."

"What would you do with her pillowcase?"

"I'd hang it up on my wall. After I encased it in plastic."

Don't know whether I'll succeed, Jonathan Campbell. But now, maybe if someone Googles "Jonathan Campbell" +Anna +Kournikova, you'll show up No. 1 in the search returns.

You and Anna. Together forever.

Pressing on ...
I find the Cloister, and tell them I'm with the press.

The security man tells me where to park. He asks for my credentials. "They're waiting for me at the pro shop."

"Who did you speak to?" I give him a name, some cell phone numbers, etc.

"I'm not trying to give you a hard time. It's just that we've had some gate crashers."

"I understand. Because of Anna?"

"I don't know. I wouldn't recognize the woman if she walked past me. I'm not impressed by that kind of thing. It's all about living a good, Christian life."

Just another pretty face
Anna Kournikova
With her face caked in zinc oxide, Kournikova is trying to blend in with the locals.
I'm greeted by Dickie Anderson, the tournament director.

"We've gotten got a bit more attention than we expected."

"Is Anna staying here?"

"She's here with her coach. They'll be practicing at 10 o'clock (Thursday morning)."

"Can I watch?"

"Sure. Just don't take pictures. She's made that request. She's been wearing long-sleeve shirts and her face has been almost completely covered with zinc oxide. In fact, I think a lot of people don't recognize her. We have a lot of other good-looking players here who can hit the heck out of the ball."

TO BE CONTINUED ...