By Paulina Björk Kapsalis
How do you unwind on vacation? For most of us, a lounger on the beach seems the obvious answer. But if you’re like the former world no. 5 tennis player, Daniela Hantuchová, a destination must offer a little bit more in terms of things to do. Match point? A really good, modern tennis center.
Hantuchová, or Dani, as her fans know her, doesn’t sit still for long. During her career as a professional tennis player, she shone both as a singles and doubles player, beat the likes of Serena Williams and Caroline Wozniacki, won seven WTA tour titles, reached the semifinals at the Australian Open and quarterfinals at the US Open and Wimbledon, and became known as the “queen of 3-setters” thanks to her incredible endurance. Today, six years after retiring as a player, she remains a well-known name in the tennis world, working as a commentator at major tournaments, while hundreds of thousands of fans follow her life and travels on social media.
We caught up with her after her recent visit to Costa Navarino to learn about her relationship with tennis today, her love for other sports, and to find out what it takes to make her slow down: a really nice meal, it seems, is the answer.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us about your love for tennis, and your experience at Costa Navarino! You’re a busy person and seem to be constantly on the move. What do you enjoy most about your career right now?
I love that I’m still involved with tennis. When I retired, I said goodbye to the professional side of it, but I hope that tennis will always be part of my life, because it’s what I love. I enjoy being able to share my thoughts and experiences with the audience when commentating matches. Also, while I’ve always traveled, I now have time to actually enjoy the places and see them with open eyes, rather than just focusing on my own performance.
You certainly have traveled and played tennis all over the world. How does Costa Navarino and the Mouratoglou Tennis Center measure up as a destination?
That is true. I’ve been lucky to see most of the big tennis venues around the world. I have to say I was very happily surprised when I arrived at the Center. It’s bigger than I thought, and you have the option of three different surfaces, which is uncommon at a hotel resort setup – so that’s amazing. Also, the fact that it’s close to the destination’s restaurants and the golf courses is perfect. As I did, you can actually walk straight from the golf course to the tennis court. Obviously, the weather, climate, and natural surroundings make it special as well. I don’t know many tennis clubs where I can play surrounded by olive trees – that’s very, very special!
The Mouratoglou Tennis Center was created partly to host tournaments. You’ve played, won, and in the last years acted as a commentator for countless tournaments. What did you think of the facilities?
I think it has so much potential, especially because of the climate. I would love to see this place grow into a major sports facility for athletes from Europe and overseas in the future. Honestly, if I was still playing and I knew about this place, I would train here quite a bit. I’m not just saying this because I love being there. You can stay calm at Costa Navarino, so you can train super hard, while at the same time also have a good time on the court, which is what you want during training weeks.
What is your favorite surface to play on?
Of course, grass! I was so happy to see the grass court there. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to play on it next time.
Greece hasn’t historically been a great tennis playing country, but lately, with players such as Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas, interest has been picking up. What do you think is necessary for tennis to grow in a country like Greece?
I think the first step has already been taken by Maria and Stefanos. Now, the kids have role models! The second step, as we talked about, is to have the necessary facilities so that kids at any level have the opportunity to train hard. Nothing comes easy, the work ethic has to be there, which means having the right coaches teaching the right methods and techniques. I feel like the player is really created somewhere between eight and fourteen – that’s when the technique is learned and the player is preparing to move on to the professional level. Making tennis affordable for the general public is also important, so that more kids get the opportunity to play.
Can anyone play tennis?
Yes, absolutely! Tennis is for everyone. That’s one of the most beautiful things about it. I started to play because my grandmother was a tennis player. I was attracted to it for its grace and beauty and how wonderful the shots looked, and my fondest childhood memories are of going to the local tennis club with my grandmother, my parents and my brother. We would spend whole days there on the weekends, playing around. I would say the social part of tennis is what draws me to it, even more than the performance part. It’s just such a lovely way to spend time with your loved ones, doing a nice activity. I honestly couldn’t have asked for more, growing up in that environment.
Besides tennis, you’re also passionate about golf. What drew you to that?
Yes. I just love the fact that it allows us to be in nature for four to four and a half hours, and – just like with tennis – that I can share this time with my family. I’m lucky to have been able to explore plenty of courses around the world, and I can compare them. I’ve played some special ones, but I have got to say that it just doesn’t get any better than what we’ve got at Costa Navarino! As for the technical aspect, you’re always being challenged to improve, because it’s very difficult. It can be frustrating at times, as all golfers know, but so wonderful at the same time. Then, having a drink afterwards at the clubhouse… life can’t really get better than that.
You had the opportunity to play golf at The Dunes Course, The Bay Course and the International Olympic Academy Course. What did you think of them? Any favorite holes?
I’d say hole number 2 at The Dunes Course, when the view of the sea appears. On The Bay Course, of course hole number 1, as well as holes 15 through 17, near the Mandarin Oriental and the sea. If you time it well, so you get to hole 17 just before the sunset, it’s quite something. The same goes for anything on the back nine of the International Olympic Academy Golf Course, where you get incredible, breathtaking views. I’d highlight the par-three right in front of the club house, at sunset or in the morning, when the colors are just incredible… Yeah, so many holes! [laughs] It’s really hard to pick one!
Guests at Costa Navarino can enjoy a vast array of other sports too, including watersports, cycling, team sports and more…
For someone as active as me, I believe very strongly that Costa Navarino has it all – like you say, not only tennis and golf. You can go on hikes, walks along the beach, biking… There’s padel now as well, which I’m a huge fan of! And then, of course, you also have the wonderful spa and incredible restaurants to enjoy, so I think everyone can find the combination they need for a perfect holiday.
How did you spend your time here, besides playing sports?
We enjoyed having incredible dinners in so many beautiful venues. I don’t even know where to start. The steakhouse overlooking the 18th hole at The Dunes Course is very special, and we also had a sushi meal with incredible views. Then Parelia restaurant at the W Costa Navarino, right on the beach with a soft breeze for both lunch and dinner… Though actually breakfast was my favorite part of the day! I’m a big breakfast person so I loved sitting by the pool listening to nice music with that variety of choices – you can eat super healthy and treat yourself as well.
My friends and I have been saying how great Greek food is. It’s part of what makes it so special there; you can be active, do all the sports in the world, and eat really good and healthy as well. So, you can enjoy being on holiday, while staying in shape.
Last but not least, we’re curious: how do you unwind?
[Laughs] That’s a good last question! For me, unwinding is actually being active and doing what I love. It gives me so much freedom and joy, and for me that’s the best way to relax – being able to do whatever I feel like. However, I do also enjoy sitting on the beach with a book, chill and talk to my loved ones. I’m a big coffee drinker, and can have breakfast for an hour and a half, easy. So even though I’m super active, I also like to enjoy the moment.