Eleni Daniilidou has her goal for next year in place and the campaign to achieve it starts in Auckland on Monday.

The 22-year-old Greek is bidding for a third straight ASB Classic title, and if she completes it will have made a flying start in her bid to rank in the top 10 women players on the planet by next Christmas.

Considering she is world No 34 and is coming off a year in which she copped her share of injuries and illness, it would seem she has a way to go.

But closer inspection suggests she has the game to make a dent on the rankings, providing she can stay fit and healthy.

She played 22 tournaments this year, but breaks with injuries to a thigh muscle, twice, an ankle and a knee, plus two bouts of sickness meant her campaign was disrupted, therefore she found rhythm hard to maintain.

Daniilidou, who was world No 14 19 months ago, is not complaining. That's life, she says, but she has worked hard and is optimistic she can rattle some reputations next year.

"I can improve on a lot of things, physical and mental, which is about how you react to tough situations," she said.

"Everyone can hit the ball, even players ranking 200 or lower. I played in Moscow against a girl who was ranked 800 and she played well, but on the important points I was a little better.

"You can always improve things. No one is perfect," she added.

When the amiable, chatty Daniilidou made it back-to-back Auckland titles last January, she did not drop a set in her five matches.

In 2003 it was tougher. She needed a tiebreak in the third set to get past Argentina's Paola Suarez in the quarter-final, and won the deciding set in the final against Korea's Yoon Jeong Cho in a tiebreak.

This time, although she has not played since October, Daniilidou is in a confident frame of mind for the US$140,000 ($195,000) event.

She will be third seed, behind American Amy Frazier and rising Serb talent Jelena Jankovic and is not looking beyond the opening round.

But this is territory she is familiar with. No one has played more games in the Auckland event than her in the last two years and she clearly enjoys the place.

Twice she has made the last 16 at Grand Slam events.

At the Australian Open last year she was eliminated by American champion Serena Williams in straight sets. That can happen to the best, but she was probably kicking herself at the US Open this year when she lost to Japan's Shinobu Asagoe - fourth seed in Auckland - then ranked about 30 places lower, in three sets after winning the first.

A glance at her results this year show two wins over past Grand Slam champion Jennifer Capriati, at Dubai and Miami, both in straight sets, both on hardcourt, the Auckland surface.

She beat another hot shot and Grand Slam winner, Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne, en route to her only other WTA title, at s'Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands in 2002.

Daniilidou admits she prefers playing the better players. She finds they bring out the best in her game. It's a point she admitted is good from one obvious perspective, but also hints at a need to harden up and develop a more ruthless streak against the lesser lights.

Daniilidou should also be buoyed by the fact the women's game is no longer dominated by a small cluster of players. This year's four Grand Slam titles were won by four different players, three Russians - Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova - and Henin-Hardenne.

"It's very interesting for tennis. Every week it's not the same people winning. But you always need the top players because people come to watch them, you sell more tickets and the sponsors are interested.

"But for the future it's good to see new, young players at Grand Slams. That's a happy situation for women's tennis." 

 
Eleni Daniilidou

Born: Sept 19, 1982, Hania, Greece
Lives: Thessaloniki
Height: 1.82m
Weight: 72kg
Ranking: 34 (career high 14, May 2003)
WTA career titles: 3 singles (s'Hertogenbosch, Netherlands 2002, Auckland 2003, 2004); 1 doubles (Stanford, 2004 with Nicole Pratt)
Career earnings: US$1.13 million ($1.57 million) 

The Winners

The singles and doubles champions over the last 10 years of the Auckland international women's tournament:

1995:

Nicole Bradtke (Australia); Jill Hetherington (Canada)/Elsa Reinach (South Africa).

1996: Sandra Cacic (US); Els Callens (Belgium)/Julie Halard-Decugis (France).

1997: Marion Marushka (Austria); Dominique van Roost (Belgium)/Janetta Husarova (Slovakia).

1998: Van Roost; Tamarine Tanasugarn (Thailand)/Nana Miyagi (Japan).

1999: Halard-Decugis; Silvia Farina Elia (Italy)/Barbara Schett (Austria).

2000: Anne Kremer (Luxembourg); Cara Black (Zimbabwe)/Alexandra Fusai (France).

2001: Meilen Tu (US); Fusai/Rita Grande (Italy).

2002: Anna Smashnova (Israel); Liezel Huber (South Africa)/Nicole Arendt (US).

2003: Eleni Daniilidou (Greece); Teryn Ashley (US)/Abigail Spears (US).

2004: Daniilidou; Mervana Jugic-Salkic (Bosnia-Herzegovina)/Jelena Kostanic (Croatia). 

The Seeds

1 Amy Frazier (US) world No 26

2 Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) No 28

3 Eleni Daniilidou (Greece) No 34

4 Shinobu Asagoe (Japan) No 37

5 Marion Bartoli (France) No 41

6 Kristina Brandi (Puerto Rico) No 48

7 Maria Vento-Kabchi (Venezuela) No 49

8 Alina Jidkova (Russia) No 55 

The Dollars

Singles prizemoney breakdown:

Total: USUS$140,000 (US$195,000)

Winner: USUS$22,000 and 95 WTA points

Finalist: USUS$12,000, 67pts

Semifinalist: USUS$6,300, 43pts

Quarter-finalist:USUS$3,400, 24pts

Second round loser: USUS$1,825, 12pts

First round loser: USUS$1000, 1pt