Eleni Rossides has more than endured the pressure rampant among junior tennis players trying to make it big. She has escaped it.
Rossides, a 17-year-old Sidwell Friends graduate and the No. 1-ranked player in the Mid-Atlantic Tennis Association's 18-year-old girls division, has taken a simple detour around the pressure that surrounds young tennis players hopping from tournament to tournament. Tennis is not her life.
"I've talked to kids who aren't allowed to do anything (but play tennis)," said Rossides, who was ranked 16th nationally in the juniors by the U.S. Tennis Association last year. "I had a choice to go out (or play tennis). Kids play all day long, from 9 in the morning to whenever. They miss out on a lot of friendships. I never had that problem."
Rossides started playing tennis when she was 10 years old, but it didn't consume her.
"My dad is to thank for that," she said. "He's been in sports a long time, and he has seen a lot of burnout, especially in tennis. He left a lot up to me."
Rossides chose not to dedicate her waking moments to life on the tennis court. And she has benefitted from a sometimes lackadaisical practice schedule.
Rossides is headed to Stanford University this fall on a full scholarship and is trying to get on the world computer rankings that would qualify her for the U.S. Open later this summer. To do so, she must make the main draw in six professional tournaments; so far she has done it in five. This week, she is playing in the U.S. Olympic Committee National Sports Festival tennis tournament at Louisiana State University.
Her easy-going manner was best exemplified when she played Martina Navratilova last January in the Virginia Slims tournament of Washington.
"I didn't get all worked up about it," said Rossides. "Everybody was making a big deal about it, but I didn't think too much about it. It was kind of wild, but I didn't think about playing the No. 1 player in the world. I was so preoccuppied with interviews, I didn't know what was going on. Then it was time to play her. It was like 'Oh my God! I have to play her!' Then I died."
Rossides wasn't so taken by the atmosphere that she couldn't win a few games from Navratilova (Rossides lost, 6-2, 6-3).
"It was a freak accident that I played her in the first place (Rossides made the main draw as a local wild card), then everybody in the whole high school came out to watch me," she said. "They treated it like a basketball game, slamming bleachers and everything. But it was good experience."
Rossides didn't develop any strategy for Navratilova, save the words of her coach, Gene Russo: "Just hit it as hard as you can."
If floating above the media hype kept Rossides' wits about her, it was a smaller tournament last summer that struck Rossides with the realization that she could take tennis further than her MATA schedule.
She took Andrea Leand (then ranked 30th in the world) to three sets before losing in a tie breaker.
"That was one of the times where I said to myself 'Whoa, I can compete against these people.' I just have to get myself together and compete. It wasn't so much confidence then, it was just a realization. When you see it on television, you're not a part of it. You think you aren't good enough and you'll never be able to make it. But then you realize you can be as good as they are."
Rossides entered her senior year with that new-found realization, but also with common sense.
"I still didn't see any point in practicing all day," she said. "A few good hours of concentrated practice is more important to me. I didn't want to miss out on being a kid."
Rossides played basketball and soccer last year.
"I've been part of a team," she said. "With tennis, it's just more individual. You tend to care about yourself more than when you're on a team. You can get very self-centered. Being able to experience being part of a team is very important. I'm glad that I had that chance."