Eleni Kordolaimi is a name that tennis nerds often stumble upon while looking at results on smaller ITF tournaments these days: the Greek player has played numerous tournaments in this 2017, but most of all, has more often than not gone deep in the draws. A powerful hitter, the 2015 University of Houston graduate is more than just that: she can grind and defend until she finds the right ball to turn the rally around, fighting like a lion for every point, no matter the score.
Off the court, however, Kordolaimi is a girl one rarely sees without a smile: during tournament she is often found chatting to other players, sharing jokes or talking about the most various things, or to local people as she likes confronting with the realities she touches while travelling. Talking to her feels like travelling too as the conversation takes turns and she is not afraid to transform an interview in a chat. The result is a pleasant time with someone you’d wish to meet soon again for another talk, not necessarily about tennis, even though, that’s what the Greek clearly excels at.
Hi Eleni, let’s start with an easy question, what is your favourite surface and how would you describe your game?
“Smoother and faster conditions definitely help me: I prefer to finish the point in three shots than stay in the point for thirty. However, I am learning that when I have to do it, I do it, but it is much better when I am able to show my game: if they courts allow me to, I prefer to build the point like I want to”.
This year you’ve played many tournaments and often changing place week in and week out, what are the challenges and the advantages of such a tight schedule?
“This summer I played many weeks on a row, indeed, sometimes changing conditions radically like I did when I went from Tunisia to Tarvisio, in the Italian Alps. But these things, together with tough matches and big changes are helping me developing and I think I have been carrying a good momentum so far. I won some matches lately by saving several set points and this taught me how to play those points: by not thinking about the score and staying focused”.
As a result, you’ve been climbing the rankings a lot in the past months, what is the key?
“It’s the work you put in every day: with my coach, my fitness coach… you just have to keep concentrated on your goal and you keep working towards it. Every match must be seen as an opportunity to go a few steps up, but most of all to improve as a player. Because when you play it is not about your rankings, you have to forget about it and think ‘how can I be better today than I was yesterday’. That’s the key”.
Among the satisfactions of this year, you represented Greece in Fed Cup, how was it?
“It was my first time playing for Greece and we got promoted to Europe-Africa Zone 2 of Fed Cup and it was special. On my first match I was so nervous that I fell behind 4-1 in a blink, but the same way as I said you have to forget that you are facing a set point, you have to forget that you are playing Fed Cup and just play like any other match. It was great to be with the other Greek girls and play for the colours of my country, because I did it as a junior, but it is was my first time as a pro. It was a unique experience for sure”.
It seems like you took many positives from it…
“I think every win counts for your confidence, but when you do it for your country even more, especially if you know you helped your country to get a promotion. It is something great to have on the back of your mind and that motivates to keep you going”.
If I am not mistaken, you studied in the US. What was it like to play in college?
“I finished college in 2015, that’s why I have been playing full time for only a year and a half now. I think it helped me so much to grow mentally, because, even though you don’t play tennis tournaments every week, during college you face so many situations that stimulate your growth. For example you are part of a team, to say one thing about tennis. Nowadays, tennis is more and more of a mental game and being tough is just so important”.
And what else did you take from this experience overseas?
“I think that going to the States was also great because whenever you move outside of your country you see how they do things differently than at home. It is something that I still do when I confront myself with different realities: you gather experiences and then use what you want from those, while you ‘throw away’ what you don’t really need. Travelling is definitely a big positive of tennis and you interact with so many other players and different countries and in the end it makes you improve as a player and as a person”.
It looks like Greek tennis is living a good moment and with so many promising youngsters looking for a breakthrough, it might see even better days ahead. What do you think was the key for this?
“I think there are so many Greek players coming through now because the option of going abroad has become more easy for the parents as well, while before parents would let their kids go that easily. I think that we have a lot of hard working people, but there isn’t much help when it comes to the federation. We know that tennis is a sport that requires so much financially, so that’s why you see that most of the Greek players practice somewhere else than in Greece. Don’t get me wrong, we have great coaches at home, but we don’t have a lot of money, so there are definitely more chances if you go abroad, otherwise you end up fighting for everything on your own”.
On the topic of costs, may I ask you about your situation and experience? How hard it is to find the money it takes to follow a tennis dream?
“To be honest, I am struggling a lot to find a good supporting system, when it comes to finances. My family, my coach and my fitness coach are all helping me so much to face the costs, but it is so hard to find sponsors that can help you keeping on playing. I am talking about any sponsor, because anything, any little helps at this level. But it is hard and I see it often, because there are athletes who quit chasing their dreams too soon because they don’t have the money to keep it alive. In tennis, you pay for everything by yourself and so you are on your own: there is not team that pays for your travelling or your trainings. It’s such a pity to see so many athletes with potential giving their dreams up because nobody can help them”.
Do you think that, coming from a country with a smaller tradition in tennis, can also be a disadvantage in those cases?
“Maybe it is better in some countries, where I see girls of my age receiving support even with a lower ranking than mine, but for my case it feels very hard all the time: I had a severe injury at the end of my junior career and this delayed my debut on the professional tour, but rarely sponsors care of these thing. They see your age and your ranking and that’s it, they don’t ask what’s behind this and I think it’s a pity as it could definitely help both sides”.
Last year there were voices about ITF providing compulsory hospitality at all levels, would that be the solution for you?
“If ITF made the hospitality mandatory for tournaments, it would make a huge difference indeed. In an average, we spend 45 to 70€ per night and if you multiply that per every night in a few weeks, you get an idea of how much this would make a difference. They can do the maths about how much we’d save and this choice would make so many athletes stay on the tour”.
On a different note, now that your ranking has gone up thanks to numerous good runs in the $15k, what is your next goal?
“You know, I am going to try upper my level and play some $25k in Italy, which also will make it easier for the costs as I live and train in Italy now. But in general I would like to stick to this level as I think it’s time to get to bigger tournament: as an athlete, you know it’s time to upper the level of the challenge when you feel comfortable in the one you are at, and I think this time has come to me. You cannot stay for years at the same level, because it will not make you grow”.
And is there a ranking goal for you?
“You know, I think tennis has become so dense that rankings don’t mean that much anymore. If you are 400 or 600, it does not necessarily mean you play another tennis than the ones in top 200: we see it often that girls ranked 500 can beat girls ranked 200 or less. Surely, if they got that high up in the ranks it is because they can produce and sustain a high level, but on a single match, things are never given. Obviously the ranking is there and you want to improve it, but it’s not all about it. As for me, at the end of the year I would like to be around 250-300, so that next year I can try and get to the qualies of Grand Slams: that’s my dream and it’s what I work so hard to reach every day”.
One last thing, do you have any idols when it comes to tennis and if so, why them?
“I really like Nadal. Obviously everyone likes Federer and I do too, but I really like Nadal because of the way he is both on and off court. I think that it is very important to be a good personality off court too. I think last year, when he did not have a good year, so many people were writing that he was done or many nasty comments, but he ignored them and by working hard he made it back to the top. I think that’s why I would name him as my example. Among women, I like Halep: I love her game and her fighting. Obviously everybody fights hard, but she does even harder. She sets her expectations always pretty high and once she gets there, she puts it higher and that’s how one has to do. If you are a professional player, you cannot be satisfied with an okay performance, you have to always demand for more from yourself”
Thank you so much for your time and best of luck for the upcoming weeks.