Daniilidou recapturing the fire
By JULIE ASH
Greek star Eleni Daniilidou is hoping to reignite the fire which she credits with her success in last year's Auckland Classic.
Daniilidou left her family in Greece in the early hours of Christmas morning and arrived in Auckland last Sunday, nine days out from the start of this year's tournament.
"It was very bad weather in Greece and I thought it was good to prepare for the tournament a little earlier," she said.
"It is not the first time I have left on the 25th, it is bad luck but I know everyone will be waiting there for me when I get back. It is just part of the job."
The 21-year-old said she thoroughly enjoyed her visit to Auckland last year when she won her second WTA career title, beating Korean Yoon Jeong Cho in the final, and feels no pressure returning as the defending champion.
The last player to successfully defend their singles title was American Patty Fendick, who won in 1988 and again in 1989.
"I try not to put pressure on myself. Last year I enjoyed the week very, very much but I didn't play my best tennis.
"I won this tournament because I was fighting so much. I was on fire and I was giving more than 100 per cent of myself.
"That is what I am going to try and do again this year but everyone wants to start the season off well. All the players are a lot fitter now and are very fresh so everyone will have to fight 100 per cent."
The only other time Daniilidou has gone into a tournament as the defending champion was in Holland last year, where she lost in the first round.
"I put a lot of pressure on myself going into that tournament, but I have learnt from that.
"Every month now the level of competition [among the top players] gets better and better making it very tough to win the same tournament two years in a row."
Going into next week's ASB Classic Daniilidou is seeded fourth behind Paola Suarez, Jelena Dokic and Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi.
She beat Suarez in the quarter-finals of last year's event, beat her friend Dokic in a tournament in Paris this year but has never encountered Smashnova-Pistolesi.
"The tournament is a lot stronger this year and it has given me a new target personally.
"I have to win against better players first of all so it will be a harder job for me.
"You need also a bit of lady luck. Last year I was very lucky especially in the final where I was two match points down.
"You also need to have fun. When I am enjoying it I am automatically relaxed and my tennis comes more easily."
Under the guidance of her coach, Judith Sprenger, Daniilidou believes her game has improved significantly since last year.
"For sure I am trying to improve all the time. One hand is very good but the other hand it is very tough to improve.
"I am a lot fitter than last year but really I just have to play my game - which is easy to say, but I have to play with plenty of aggression."
Growing up in Crete, with her mother, father and older brother and sister, Daniilidou was pretty good at every sport she turned her hand to. "I played basketball, football - always I liked sport. I was 14 years old when I decided tennis was what I really liked.
"We had an apartment next to the sports centre in Greece. Next to the sports centre was the school. I was always either at school, the sports centre or my house.
"One day a coach came to me and asked if I wanted to try tennis. He knew just my face, not even my name or anything.
"I said, 'Okay' and that was it. After one week I said to my father, 'I want a tennis racket, buy me a tennis racket'.
"I actually wanted to study medicine. That was my dream. But now my dream is to become a top player."
Daniilidou's ranking has dropped slightly in the last few months, from 14 to 26.
"It is very tough, very hard work. It is very good for us that we are now able to compete with Serena and Venus Williams. They are very, very strong. Justine Henin-Hardenne has also become unbelievably strong and she has the tennis to beat them.
"To get that power that Justine would have had to have worked very hard. It was good for us to see her finally beating them."
Following her visit to Auckland, Daniilidou heads to Hobart for the Moorilla Tasmanian International and then on to the Australian Open in Melbourne. By this time next year, she would like to see her name in the top 15.
"It is going to be very hard but I prefer to set high targets and really give everything to try and get there."