3 Favourite Things:
Natalie: Hi, Melin! It’s great to meet you! Tell me about how you got into sport while growing up in Cyprus.
Melin: I was born in Famagusta, my family is from Cyprus. I was 6 years old when I started playing Tennis. One of my Mum’s friends wanted her children to learn how to play and invited me to join their team too. We started as 10 children, all friends. Two years later, I was the only one from that group still playing.
Natalie: You took Tennis seriously from a young age then! Tell us your tennis playing history.
Melin: I started playing in tournaments when I was 8 years old. I was 9 when I played my first tournament, which was in Turkey. I won my first Championship there. As a Turkish Cypriot, I had two options – either to try to make the Turkish National team, or the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) National Team. The Turkish national team has more money and has more opportunities to play than the RoC, however to be part of the Turkish National team, and move further, you have to live there and have a Turkish nationality. I wanted to stay in Cyprus and keep my Cypriot nationality.
Interview by Natalie Christopher
Edited by Christiana Nicolaides & Vaia Velli
For example, Bugra Eryildiz is Cypriot but plays for the national team of Turkey. She travels frequently to Turkey to train. You have to live there basically.
N: So, what did you do?
M: I started playing tournaments in the RoC when I was 11. I would enter tournaments in Nicosia, Larnaca and Limassol.
My family was generally very supportive, my Dad would always drive me to the matches. We became very close because of that. He was sacrificing a lot of things to take me. I was training every day in order to compete at such a high level, I even had to get permission from School!
N: Do you remember the first time you crossed the Green Line?
M: I was crossing the Green Line before I started playing Tennis. We would go sightseeing with my family. We also visited the place where my father was born in Pafos.
My sister, who is 5 years older than me, took part in the Cyprus Friendship Program (http://cyprusfriendship.org/?page_id=3861), so I experienced quite a lot of things related to the Greek-Cypriot community as I was growing up.
N: How did so much training affect you growing up?
M: I wasn’t going out a lot with my friends, I didn’t have the time. I did miss going out or going to the cinema, for example. However, having such a strict training routine made me mature and disciplined. I started playing seriously to earn places and it worked. Thankfully, I had great support from my family and from my School. Friends would send pictures of notebooks while I was away, helping me keep up with school work. My teachers got used to me travelling. My science teacher specifically changed the syllabus, so she would teach the harder topics while I was there and the easier things while I was away. Sometimes people would ask, ‘How long will you be doing this? How far will the tournaments go? Isn’t it going to be hard for you to keep up with school?’.
They weren’t believing that I was actually going to succeed on an international level. But I proved them wrong by becoming the top ranking player in the Under 14 Age Group in the whole of Cyprus. The top two of all age groups make it to the National Team and that’s how I earnt my place representing my country!
I was on the U14 and U16 National Teams. I was only 15 when I made it on to the U16 National Team!
N: When was the first time you represented Cyprus abroad?
M: It was in Russia, I was 14 years old. It was a tournament with the National Team at a European Federation Tennis event. The top three players from each country played in the Winter Cup. You were playing for your country; all the points you earned went towards your country. I was happy to be part of the Cypriot national team. It was very cold, it was snowing. We took many pictures in the snow with the tennis rackets.
N: So, you’ve travelled a lot!
M: That was my second time in Russia actually! The first time I went for a Tennis training camp, when I was 10. I also went to Czech Republic when I was 14. It was the most prestigious tournament; only the top two players from all over Europe were there. When Djokovic was our age, he won that tournament! And even though I couldn’t make it through the first round, it was an amazing experience.
The highlight of all the places I’ve been was Anatalya, with my best friend, Christina. I was during school time and our friends would send us pictures of school books! I was a two-week tournament, called “Development”. There were lots of people from small states and developing countries like Montenegro, Modolva, and Croatia.
N: Who has supported you along the way?
M: My family have always been there for me. They always told people ‘Melin is a strong fighter, she would never give up. If she was losing, she’d keep fighting.’ I think that’s why I was successful in matches, I was stronger mentally than physically. You’re on your own in Tennis. If you’re down, you have to keep yourself focussed, you shouldn’t let other things bother you on the court.
N: Is it your character? Is that something instilled in you?
M: I think so. Both parents were always proud of my Sister and I’s achievements and what we did; we both did well both at sports and academically. They would never tell us that things weren’t for children. We tried many things: folk dancing, chess, different activities… even drawing and art lessons! They let us choose what we like. They knew we were terrible at some activities, but they still took us to learn! I still have a good relationship with my Mum; we are like Sisters, we share many things.
N: Were you aiming to take your Tennis internationally?
M: I had this belief in myself and my coach especially, that I could succeed if I tried really hard. At the same time, I didn’t want tennis to be my actual career. If I was too dedicated to tennis, I wouldn’t have time to be involved in all the other things I do, including peace building, which is very important to me.
In school I did AS levels: Physics, Chemistry, Biology & Maths. They all complement each other. Combining education, tennis, and other extra-curricular activities, you grow. Life is all about learning new things and meeting more people and growing. It was indeed very time-consuming to get to tournaments, for example it took two hours to get to Limassol, then waiting one hour until I played and then the drive back again. But I didn’t mind doing this at the time.
N: What steps have you taken to pursuing other areas outside of sport that are important to you?
M: I was delighted to be selected for the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellowship (BFTF for short http://bftf.org/), through which I realised I enjoyed debating and being civically engaged. It opened my eyes to a lot of things. After my participation in the program, I had lunch with Katherine Doherty, US ambassador, who wanted to congratulate my selection for Cyprus for the BFTF project and wanted to know what I had learnt. It gave me the idea to get involved in Ambassador Science Diplomacy, so I could represent my country on topics like climate change.
N: Do you still play Tennis now?
M: It’s been more than a year since I haven’t been on the National Tennis Team. I didn’t take an actual decision to step back from Tennis, it happened more organically. I never thought of quitting Tennis, I’ll never be able to do that. Even when I am studying, I go to the court. I makes me feel alive, like I am breathing. It obviously still helps me.
N: Have you ever faced discrimination as a female athlete in your career so far?
M: Well, I started sport so young, I didn’t really have any concept that sport “isn’t” for girls. When you’re eight, boys and girls play together and that’s that. Also, there were few good female tennis players in my local club that I could train with. As I grew up, the thing that always bothered me was that there weren’t as many girls who were playing tennis as boys. Especially in the Turkish-Cypriot community. Now there isn’t a single female Turkish-Cypriot 16-year-old who plays.
N: Why do you think that is?M: People think it’s an expensive sport. Not many people are encouraged to play Tennis. They didn’t initiate it at schools either and so there were never many tournaments between schools, although I’m happy to say this did start a couple of years ago.
N: Do you think girls are encouraged to play sports in Cyprus? If so, which?
M: Volleyball seems to be very popular amongst many girls here. It’s definitely cheaper than Tennis and it’s a team sport. That means even if are not a very confident player, you can still play with your friends. I remember my sister played Volleyball. My dad took me to watch her play. Having inter-School tournaments also makes it more popular than tennis, say, where until recently there wasn’t the opportunity to play many matches through School. You would have to travel on your own to matches which makes it more costly.
N: Do you plan to get involved in Tennis again?
M: Yes, when I go to University, I want to play the University’s team. In the future I’d love to become a coach, I want to give back to my club.
My club also organises Beach Tennis matches in the summer which are good fun. It’s played at a local level, in Famagusta, and it’s just for fun. There are prizes and you can play as doubles. It’s very popular for people who play Tennis recreationally, and their families come to show their support.
I like to play Beach Tennis and take part in the tournaments. The winners are always the serious tennis players, but everyone is welcome! [online link?]
N: Who was/is your Sporting role model?
M: It has always been Maria Sharipova. Some people said I even looked like her! I grew up looking up to her. I was buying Sharipova clothes and racquets. The way she acted on court was very important to me. Her biography is very inspiring; she followed her dreams. Her Dad had trust in her and supported her, just like mine.
N: What are your plans for the future?
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you so much for talking with Cyprus Girls Can Melin!
We wish you all the best of luck with your future sporting adventures!