February 10, 2004
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Getting to Know...
Mara Santangelo couldn't have asked for a happier New Year than the one she enjoyed in Australia. Arriving down under with a WTA Singles Ranking of No.138, the 22-year-old Italian returned home 50 spots higher and inside the Top 100 for the very first time. Compatriots proved to be the stumbling blocks early in her January campaign, falling to Tathiana Garbin in Auckland and Silvia Farina in Canberra. However, it was in Melbourne the 1.81 metre Santangelo made herself known.
Qualifying for the main draw of the Australian Open (her second career major appearance), Santangelo defeated No.16 seed Magui Serna, former Top 10 player Barbara Schett and No.19 seed Eleni Daniilidou—all in three sets—to reach the fourth round, one of two Italian women to do so (alongside Farina Elia).
While she may have fallen to Justine Henin-Hardenne in straight sets, the world No.1 and eventual champion didn't have it all her own way. Santangelo led a service break in the second set, which Henin-Hardenne only managed to win in a tie-break.
Santangelo's attacking, serve-and-volley style turned more than a few heads in Melbourne. Her poise, considering the fact she was playing only the fourth WTA Tour main draw of her career was even more impressive.
Santangelo lists Martina Navratilova as her idol and her forehand as her biggest weapon. She aspires to taste Grand Slam success at the All England Club one day.
Her early Grand Slam results suggest there's a pretty good chance this Italian could feature prominently in major events in the future.
How did you get involved in tennis?
I started playing at nine. My parents introduced me to the game. My family owned a local hotel where we lived, and there was a court at the hotel, so I would play there.
You obviously had a great run in Melbourne. What were you thinking when you defeated Daniilidou and reached the Round of 16?
I was just so happy because it meant that all of my hard work paid off and it was just a little way that I could repay my friends and family for always supporting me. I think that this Australian Open is one of my most memorable experiences.
Does your family usually travel with you?
My coach (Daniele Moretti) usually travels with me.
Does anyone in your family play tennis?
My brother, Matteo, also plays. My mom and dad played but not anymore.
Do you have any other sports interests?
I like to watch soccer and I like to play volleyball and basketball. For off-court training, I also do some running and swimming.
What are some of your hobbies?
I love to go sightseeing, especially in historical cities. I like to learn about different cultures and societies. Traveling is one of my favorite things about being on the Tour.
What is the least favorite thing about being a professional tennis player?
It's very difficult to be away from my family. My favorite place to be is home because I get to be with them.
How would you describe yourself?
I would say that I'm very sensitive, and I like to always have fun.
Who do you admire, tennis or non-tennis?
In tennis, Martina Navratilova because when I was growing up; she was the best player. She played wonderful tennis, a great serve and volleyer, and she still plays great tennis now. I also admire my grandmother because she is just a wonderful person.
How would you describe your style of play?
I like to serve and volley. My favorite shot is the volley, but I think that my best shot is my forehand.
What are your career goals, short- or long-term?
For this year, I want to be in the Top 100. I would love to win Wimbledon, which is probably my favorite tournament because when I was young, I thought it was the best. As for my career, Top 10.