Spotlight: Eleni Rossides

A tennis champion is helping kids in the game of life.

By: Caleb Hannan

Editorial intern Caleb Hannan’s (channan@washingtonian.com) tennis career ended with freshman tryouts for Yorktown High School in Arlington.

Eleni Rossides was staring across the net at the world’s number-one tennis player. After a day of classes at Sidwell Friends, the high-school senior was face-to-face with Martina Navratilova in the 1985 Virginia Slims tournament at George Washington University. Rossides had a big cheering section, but the odds were against her.

“Everyone was afraid I’d lose 0–0, but I held serve,” says Rossides. “In fact, I broke her serve!”

Flash forward 21 years. Rossides is watching a promising 17-year-old Prince­ton-bound graduate from the Center for Excellence, one of three main programs at the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation, where Rossides is executive director.

WTEF’s mission is to improve the prospects of low-income DC youth by recruiting at public schools; it works with 23 schools in Northeast and Southeast DC. Although a college education is the goal, Rossides says, “tennis is the hook.” She should know. She’s been hooked since she was four years old.

Growing up around DC’s Tenleytown, Rossides’s first memories of tennis are in Lafayette Park a few streets away, tagging along while her two older brothers took lessons. Once she grew big enough to play, she got all the motivation she would need from middle child Alexander, three years older: “He said, ‘You won’t beat us at sports.’ ”

Within a few years, Alexander got tired of losing to his younger sister.

Despite success in college—she made number one on a Stanford team that won four consecutive national championships—Rossides struggled once she turned pro, fighting leg and shoulder injuries that forced her to retire in 1998.

Rossides’s life as a pro athlete without an agent—she did her own budget and planning—prepared her for her next move: Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. Then, after working for McKinsey & Company and Black & Decker, she was lured to WTEF in 2004.

Rossides, who lives in Kensington with husband Nikolas, a contractor, and their two toddler sons, lost that long-ago Navratilova match 6–3, 6–2. But these days she’s still creating winners.