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Tennis player from Crete finds the will to win

Mercer Women's Tennis Player, Junior Katia Stavroulaki, gets ready to swing against Furman March 20.

Ireal James

Mercer Women's Tennis Player, Junior Katia Stavroulaki, gets ready to swing against Furman March 20.

Emma Peel, Staff Writer

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Katia Stavroulaki started playing tennis when she was just 7 years old.

She quickly figured out that the true opponent she faced out on the court was herself, and she enjoyed the independence and self-reliance that tennis required of her.

She began competing shortly after picking up a racquet and won her first tournament at 11 years old. Ever since that initial win, Stavroulaki has dedicated her life to the sport, traveling halfway around the world in order to compete at a high level.

Stavroulaki grew up on the Grecian island of Crete. As one of the only young female tennis players on the island, she dominated tournaments and was quickly identified as an athlete with the potential to play in college.

After graduating from high school in Greece, Stavroulaki departed her familiar island home for the U.S. after being offered a scholarship at the University of Texas Pan-American. At the age of 19, it was the first time she had left home for a long period of time. After her sophomore year, Stavroulaki decided to transfer to Mercer University.

“I wanted to move on and see something different,” Stavroulaki said. “I love being in a new place, meeting new people and experiencing a new culture. Of course I miss my family and friends back in Greece, but this is an opportunity that I took. And I want to take everything I can from it.”

Now, Stavroulaki, a junior, she competes at the number one singles and number one doubles positions.

She has won seven out of her last eight singles matches and led her team to a huge win over Stetson — a team that Mercer women’s tennis hasn’t beaten for the last 13 years.

Stavroulaki was also recently named the Southern Conference Women’s Tennis Player of the Week for the second time since the season began. She is the only player to have received this honor twice so far this season.

She has accumulated a 11-3 record playing at the number one singles position and holds a record of 8-7 with her doubles partner Grace Korta.

Although Stavroulaki loves the individuality that tennis grants her, one of her favorite aspects of the sport is playing at the net, which she does much more frequently when competing in doubles.

She recognizes the opportunity to capitalize on her aggressive playing style that playing doubles grants her.

“Seventy-five percent of doubles success is chemistry,” Stavroulaki said. “Grace and I have really good team chemistry, and we connect very well on the court.”

When Stavroulaki first came to the United States, she said she suffered from homesickness, and it impacted her play as well. She was tentative on the court and lacking in confidence. Her transformation into a self-confident and successful competitor came with time and many matches.

“Sometimes, you just need to find a way to win,” Stavroulaki said. “Even if you’re not feeling great or the conditions aren’t perfect, you need to find the will to win. You have to be alternative and flexible and simply find a way.”

Stavroulaki said that she can see the tennis team growing and improving every day. With her help, the team has gone from a record of 4-18 in 2015 to an 8-9 record so far for the 2016 season. For Stavroulaki, success hinges on the relationships she builds in the process of competing.

“When you win, you aren’t winning just for yourself but for your team. And if you lose, your team is there to pick you up and help you keep going,” she said.

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Tennis player from Crete finds the will to win