Interview with Lena Daniilidou from the Athens Website -
At the end of 2002 you are in the top 20. Where do you think you’ll be in August 2004?
“In Tennis, as in every sport, there are many unknown factors. God willing, I’ll be fit, and everything else will fall into place. I’ll try hard to achieve my targets and 2003 will be a decisive year.”
If the Olympic Games had been held in August 2002, the gold and silver medals would have been won by the Williams sisters. In 2004, which position do you think you will achieve?
“The standard in my sport rises every three months. It needs hard work. There are a lot of very good athletes. It will depend at that moment on who is in the best form. It’s a long way off. A place on the Olympic podium would mean the achievement of one of my greatest sporting dreams.”
The 2004 Games will be your first major tournament in Greece. Thousands of Greeks will be sitting in the stands. How do you imagine that moment? Might the crowd’s expectations put pressure on you or will they give you a boost?
“That is when I think my dreams will become true. When I think of it, I don’t feel pressure. I hope I don’t when the time comes. It was very good for me that I got a first taste in Sydney. The crowd will give me a boost. Of course, I still need a lot of work to get to the level I want. I have to be calm, and then I can compete with all my strength and try to win and succeed.”
A good coach is considered the be-all and end-all in Tennis. Lena Daniilidou has been far from lucky in that area. She managed to break into the world’s top 50 without a coach at all. Her matches were her training. Since last December, the Greek champion has trained with Sweden’s Lars Anders Wahlgren, who was once assistant coach to the top German player, Steffi Graf.
The coach in Tennis is very close to the athlete. How important is his presence?
“We travel constantly. There has to be absolute communication between the coach and the athlete. Every week we are in a different city, often in two. The scenery changes. It’s all change. The only things that stay roughly the same are the courts and the opponents. The relationship has to have a solid professional basis, however, because the coach is paid by the athlete. There has to be chemistry, experience and everything else. Of course, it is very difficult to find the perfect combination. There are problems. The coach can’t have family commitments; he has to like travelling and all the rest of it...”
The travelling and all the other activities look exciting for people who are not familiar with that way of life. How does your day look when you have had a match, and when you don’t have a match?
“We begin in the morning with training, then food, the match, relaxation, a massage, food and bed. When we don’t have a match, we try to make the most of every second to relax. We go to the cinema or look round the city where the tournament is being held. The schedule is very strict and we create it ourselves. When we are competing in a tournament, we have to be ready at any moment, if I lose, to book tickets and go to another city for the next tournament, to train and acclimatise. Our time is very limited.”
How do relax after a difficult encounter?
“What relaxes me is shopping and going out for a drive. I like driving and I listen to music. Driving relaxes me amazingly. Music keeps me company before and after the match.”
Have you ever felt like packing it all in and running off?
“That happens at the end of every year, when we really have to climb a mountain. Most of us are tired and everything is very difficult. But that’s where you see who can last and who has strong nerves. Occasionally things cross my mind, but I love what I do and I wouldn’t change it for anything. I get tired sometimes, but then I remember that I’m the one who chose this path. I wouldn’t change Tennis for anything.”
Since the age of 15 you’ve been with a suitcase in your hand. Life is difficult for a young girl far from her family. What kept you playing?
“My love for Tennis cancels out everything, tiredness and loneliness. I travel, change surroundings, go to new countries, meet different people and encounter different attitudes. The experiences are exciting. The patience and the effort are rewarded. I think that 2002 was a positive year. I’m very happy that I managed to break into the world’s top 30.”
While you are competing in different tournaments around the world, most other people of your age are enjoying themselves in clubs. When you have to go to bed early, your friends in Greece are staying up all night dancing. Don’t you miss that life?
“I miss my family more. The basic thing is for us all to be healthy. For me to do what I love, we have all made sacrifices. My family helped and supported me a lot and the only thing I want is for us all to be well and to share in one another’s dreams. I don’t miss staying up all night and partying. I love what I do. I’m disappointed when I lose, but I write it off and start again from the beginning. Tennis was my choice and I don’t envy anyone.”
Slowly but surely, and despite unfavourable conditions, Lena Daniilidou has made her presence felt among the sport’s elite. She has won hundreds of admirers abroad, who support her and exchange views on her over the Internet. At Wimbledon (where Lena reached the last 16), the young Greek’s fans created a fantastic atmosphere. The buzz around her was so special, in fact, that the 20-year-old almost beat the American Jennifer Capriati, who has now defeated her three times. This year at the All-England Club, Daniilidou came close to winning. Having lost the first set, she came back to win the second, but play had to be stopped because of the rain. “If the match had finished on the first day, I would have won. Oh well, better luck next time,” she says, laughing.
Apart from your family, do you have anyone else supporting you?
“My psychologist also helps me, but he’s in Thessaloniki, unfortunately, and my only contact with him is through the Internet. Tennis demands calm and concentration. You work on them and improve them. Lots of the players have a psychologist with them.”
We hear a lot about the luxury lifestyles of the top tennis players. You’re now within a whisker of them. Will you follow their example?
“In a big tournament you see everything. The players who have made it, who can afford it, live in luxury. Even if I could, I wouldn’t do that. I’m happy with a clean, quiet room. Excess doesn’t suit my character.”
How do the stars of the sport behave?
“It depends on their character. In the top ten there are some who are a bit snotty, and others who are really nice. It is usually the ones who have had to fight more and faced more difficulties who behave better.”
Do you have friends on the tour?
“At that level it’s difficult to make friends, but even if you do, you have to be careful. Everything is about the job, and there’s a lot of money at stake. There are some players that I’m closer to and we have fun during the long boring interludes. But to make a real friend is difficult.”
You live for long periods abroad, far from your family and without a friend by your side. Don’t you feel lonely?
“I’m used to it and I enjoy it. There is loneliness because it’s an individual sport. You’re constantly with a suitcase in your hand, but I’m used to that way of life. I enjoy my sacrifice. It’s a mountain I climb with pleasure.”
We could call you a ‘modern migrant’. With the endless travelling and speaking English with the other players every day, do you sometimes forget where you are from?
“I never forget Greece. I feel Greek and I am Greek through and through. Greece and Greece again. My home and the people I love are there. I play for my country and I hope to bring more pleasure to Greece and the Greek people.”
Apart from Football, the Brazilians also love Tennis because of Gustavo Kuerten. Do you think the same thing could happen with the Greek people thanks to you?
“I hope I can manage it. Tennis is a fantastic sport.”
You have spoken to us about your sporting goals and dreams. What about on a personal level? Do you want to have a family some day?
“I love children and family. But it’s very early to be thinking of something like that. No one knows what life has in store for them. What is certain is that I want to carry on playing Tennis until I’m 25, 28, 30, why not until I’m 32 years old? As long as I last. Some people want to set an age limit for the sport. I don’t believe in that. Tennis is played at all ages. As long as you love it, have fun and enjoy every moment that you’re on court.”