Elly Hakami: Performing in the Big Moments
Elly Hakami began playing tennis when she was six years old. Her work ethic, combined with her sheer enjoyment of tennis and her father Ray’s coaching, led to her success as a youngster. Elly spent vast amounts of time training on neighborhood courts in Tiburon. In 1984, at 13 years old, Elly’s hard work began to pay off when she received the California Women’s Player of the Year and California Junior Player of the Year. By 1985, Elly was ranked No. 3 in the U.S. in the Girls’ 16.
Elly’s on court success helped foster her reputation as a mentally tough player. She continued to earn accolades when in 1986, she was awarded California Junior Player of the Year again. That year, she won the USTA National Hardcourt Championships in the Girls’ 18, was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. Girls’ 18, and won the Junior US Open. ADVERTISEMENT Winning the National Hardcourts earned her a Wild Card into the U.S. Open main draw, where she won two rounds.
The year 1987 also proved to be a stellar year for the young Hakami. Elly beat Mary Joe Fernandez in the second round of the Virginia Slims tournament in Los Angeles, CA. She also played against Gabriela Sabatini at the US Open. Elly went on to play in the Aptos Challenger Series, where she beat Melissa Gurney in the Finals to claim her first pro singles title.
Later in 1987, Elly played Martina Navratilova in the quarterfinals of the Manhattan Beach tournament. Unfortunately, Elly was caught in traffic on the way to the tournament, but came out unflustered. Despite losing to Navratilova, Elly played a strong match, earning praise from Navratilova: “She is a very good player. She seems to be very bright and she's a lot better all-court player than I thought she would be. I thought she served well and she comes out tough.”
In 1988, Elly reached her highest rankings: No. 32 in singles and No. 68 in doubles. Unfortunately, Elly suffered a back injury in 1989, keeping her off the court for a year. When Elly returned to the court in 1990, she played Challengers to build her ranking back up. Elly won three Futures Circuit events and reached two finals between 1990 and 1994. Of all of the coverage of her professional career, being included on Inside Tennis’s “Best Players for the Past 25 Years,” is one of her greatest honors.
By 1997, Elly started to spend more time coaching, teaching at Mt. Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, CA. Becoming a coach has been fulfilling for Hakami, who views coaching as her opportunity to give back to her sport. Furthermore, when she is on the court coaching, Elly feels a closeness to her father, as she shapes young players in much the same way that her father taught her. In 2005, Elly went on hiatus from tennis to raise her two children: Sonya (13) and Polo (16). Now that her children are older, Elly has returned to coaching at Mt. Tam Racquet Club.
Having played on the professional circuit, and also working as a coach, Elly is well aware that tennis players must commit to a high level of dedication and perfectionism, as well as maintain a serious and tough mentality. As she says, “when it comes down to it, you have to forget who you are playing...You have to maintain your own sense of mental clarity and focus on how you perform.”