Greece is the word for Classic title defender Daniilidou
By TERRY MADDAFORD
Defending her classic title would be nice, winning anywhere on the WTA circuit this year would be great but nothing will be more special for Eleni Daniilidou than when she walks on court representing her native Greece at this year's Athens Olympics.
Already guaranteed a spot in singles and doubles at the Olympics in August, 21-year-old Daniilidou is taking a relaxed approach into her new year on the WTA circuit.
Getting away to a winning start in the defence of her Classic title was important for the world's 26th-ranked player and tournament third seed.
"I'm very happy to win in two sets," said Daniilidou after her 1h 37m 6-2 7-6 (7-2) victory over unseeded Croatian Jelena Kostanic. "It was a fight, especially in the second set. I was not moving well. Luckily, I came right in the tiebreak."
Tomorrow, Daniilidou will play the winner of today's match between unseeded Emmanuelle Gagliardi and Klara Koukalova. Today she plays first-round doubles with Italian partner Rita Grande.
They meet Americans Ashley Harkleroad and Ansley Cargill in what promises to be one of the more interesting clashes.
Long-time visitor Cara Black posted an early warning yesterday.
Unseeded Black, who has her sights set on a career-high spot in the top 20 by the end of the year, scored the first upset when she bundled out the fourth seed, Venezuelan Maria Vento-Kabchi, the world No 44, 6-2 6-2.
Surprisingly, given her doubles record, Black has opted to bypass that event this year.
"I'm trying to work on my singles. Playing here has given me a good opportunity to focus on that."
After playing for almost four years with Russian Elena Likhovtseva, Black, who reached the 2000 singles final and won the doubles that year, has now teamed with Australian Rennae Stubbs.
Her second-round match tomorrow will be against the winner of today's clash between Marion Bartoli and Anabel Medina Garrigues.
The only other seeded player to crash out of the EziBuy singles yesterday was Japan's Shinobu Asagoe. The fifth seed was beaten 6-3 6-4 in 1h 20m by world No 75 Kristina Brandi.
Former classic winner Meilen Tu needed three tough three-setters in qualifying to win through to the main draw. Against fellow American Jill Craybas, the 2001 champion dropped the first set yesterday 6-4 but came back to win the next two 6-3 6-4 in 2h 05m.
Tu, now ranked 143 in the world, has her fourth match in as many days when she plays world No 62 Akiko Morigami of Japan today.
Top doubles seeds, and the world's top pairing, Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez started their campaign with an emphatic 6-3 6-1 win over Gagliardi and Anabel Medina Garrigues. Ruano Pascual and Suarez will play first-round singles today.
Jan 5th, 2004, 03:11 PM
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."
Jan 5th, 2004, 03:27 PM
Daniilidou keen to defend crown
By David Long at the ASB Bank Tennis Centre
Defending ASB Classic champion Eleni Daniilidou is under no illusions that retaining her title will be easy.
Daniilidou, from Greece, won the ASB Classic in a third set tie break last year and as a sign if her keenness to do well again this year she was the first player to arrive in Auckland to prepare for the week long event.
"I came a bit earlier this time, just to prepare and see around Auckland, because last time I didn't have any time at all," Daniilidou told nzoom.com.
Daniilidou, who is the number three seed at the Classic this year, is a lot more in the spotlight than she was last year because of the fact that she's the reigning champion, but she said it's not something that bothers her at all.
"It's nice to come back to defend my title but I don't feel any pressure," she said. "I have been able to prepare, to practice and to relax.
"I feel very good and hope on Monday or Tuesday I'll be able to play well. But every match will be tough and every match in the main draw will be tough."
Daniilidou finished the year ranked 22 with good performances in Birmingham and Paris where she reached the semifinals and while she was happy with how last year went, she feels that she may have overdone it in the early months of the season.
"It was a very good year, but the start of it was too good actually and in the middle of year after a few months I was a little bit tired and I lost some close matches.
"But it was a good year and I played in some big tournaments against some big names.
"It's always good when you see a top player, you can see your weaknesses and you can put in new targets."
Asked what she needs to do to break into the elite top 10 in the world, Daniilidou highlighted a couple of areas of her game she'll be looking to improve on in 2004.
"My fitness, my serve and also mentally. I really want to be aggressive in tournaments because the level is getting higher every year and you really have to work hard to keep going."
The big news before this year's ASB Classic commenced was that Jelena Dokic had pulled out of the event at the last minute, leaving the tournament short of a real marquee player.
Dokic cited personal problems for her late withdrawal and Daniilidou can understand what it's like to through traumas in your private life while still travelling around the world playing tennis.
"It's bad luck for everyone, for the tournament and the spectators," she said. "For sure she has problems, she's a very good player and it would have been good to have her here, but they'll still be plenty of good matches here though."
However, Daniilidou revealed that it isn't just Dokic with personal problems on the women's circuit and the nature of the lives the players lead causes them all to feel the stress.
"It's very hard, everyone has personal problems, some have some problems, some are big," she said.
"Believe me everyone has a lot of problems with this type of life because it is very tough.
"And it's very hard to keep your personal life separate because when you're on the court the mental aspect is very important."