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Kournikova Plays After Thumb Injury

July 8, 1998

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) _ Anna Kournikova’s thumb is feeling better and she feels ready to start climbing up the tennis ladder to No. 1.

``I really don’t think anything separates me right now,″ from No. 1, the 17-year-old Russian said in a conference call Wednesday. ``I think I’ve beaten every person in the top 10, including Steffi Graf. It’s just a matter of time.″

Kournikova and Graf are both playing at the A&P Classic, beginning July 13 in Mahwah. Kournikova was a finalist there last year, losing in three sets to Chanda Rubin. Graf has won the event five times.

Kournikova likes her chances, having beaten Graf in the quarterfinals of Eastbourne, Wimbledon’s warmup tournament.

Of Graf, who is attempting a comeback after reconstructive knee surgery last year, Kournikova said, ``She’s a great athlete. ... But I think it’ll be really difficult for her to be coming back.″

Kournikova said she is recovered after injuring ligaments in her thumb when she fell on her hand during the match with Graf. The injury forced Kournikova, the 12th seed at Wimbledon, to withdraw from the tournament.

She began playing a few days ago, and ``it feels perfect,″ she said. ``Right now, I don’t feel any pain, and hopefully it’s going to stay that way.″

She kept her thumb in a splint and iced it frequently, but mostly ``what my thumb needed was rest,″ she said.

Mirjana Lucic and Amanda Coetzer are among the other featured players at next week’s Classic, which will announce its draw Thursday.

Kournikova, asked about her friendship with Sergei Federov of the Detroit Red Wings, said he may not attend the U.S. Open this year. Instead, she said, she’s invited Scotty Bowman, coach of the Stanley Cup champions.

``I’m a fan of the Red Wings,″ she said, adding that several other players might be her guests.

Bowman’s invitation came as news to the Red Wings.

``At this point, he hasn’t been invited,″ Red Wings spokesman John Hahn said. ``He hasn’t spoken to Anna.″

But Hahn said Bowman, an acquaintance of Kournikova, might enjoy watching her play.

``Scotty is a very big sports fan,″ Hahn said. ``I know he is interested in tennis.″

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