ECU's Melis Tanik: Transatlantic Tennis Tale

  • Name: Melis Tanik
  • Age: 21
  • Organization: East Carolina University, Ravenscroft High School

(Photo: Melis Tanik. Courtesy: East Carolina athletics communication.)

Author: Patrick Kinas, creator.

“When I’m happy, it reflects on my game.”

These are the words of a vagabond English tennis star whose resolve and patience were tested by government policies and a Big East coaching fallout.

The story of Melis Tanik winds from across the Atlantic to beyond the Triangle to the mountains of the Appalachians before happily rooting in Greenville.

The Journey’s Start

“I grew up in Brighton, which is on the English coast about an hour south of London,” said Melis. Her father works in the IT department for Credit Suisse and with a job transfer and armed with a three-year visa, the Tanik family moved to the Triangle while Melis was in the eighth grade.

Following the transatlantic move, Tanik found herself in a new country whose culture, food or landscape didn’t resemble Brighton in the least. About the only constant Tanik could find was her peace on the tennis courts. Whether she was an hour south of Wimbledon’s All England Lawn & Croquet Club or seven hours south of the U.S. Open’s Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, NY, Tanik’s found her solace inside the baseline of tennis courts.

After the family move brought Tanik to the Triangle, she was enrolled at Ravenscroft in Raleigh, where Tanik quickly burst on the American tennis landscape, but she encountered not only worthy junior opponents, but also certain policies of the United States government as she attempted to build a ranking and resume to take her game to the next level.

“Tennis isn’t big at all in England, and the lack of players in England – in comparison to the U.S. – made the transition to American tennis rather shocking,” Tanik said. “The USTA (United States Tennis Association) has a rule stating that you have to be a citizen or have a green card to play tournaments. When you’re on a visa, like I was, you’re only allowed to play tournaments in the state of North Carolina.”

“After a year of living in the U.S., our family applied for a green card and the whole process was complete at the beginning of my junior year,” Tanik recalled.

“We became permanent residents.”

Hence, the clock was ticking on Tanik to construct a regional tennis resume, but the supply of tournaments in the Tar Heel state was finite.

“I had eight months to build a ranking,” Tanik said exhaustedly. “We drove to just about every tournament we could to get as much exposure as possible. I previously wasn’t allowed to play in the southern regional or national tournaments, so now I had my shot.”

The plan worked.

With Tanik’s name peppering every draw sheet from the North Carolina coast to the mountains, the resume Tanik hoped to build was fully activated. Her deep runs in these tournaments turned heads, and ultimately garnered an offer from the Big East’s West Virginia Mountaineers.

Tanik could finally exhale after a draining tennis campaign.

Only Tanik’s moment of glory heading to Morgantown would be fleeting.

Mountaineer Madness

As her freshman year approached, Tanik experienced the same range of emotions of any inbound college athlete. A mix of excitement, anticipation, doubt and a wide-open future were in Tanik’s crock pot of sentiments.

But just hours before moving onto campus, Tanik’s burgeoning college life pivoted like Dwight Howard in the low post.

“Two days before I moved in, my head coach resigned.”

Chaos on the court ensued.

“We didn’t have a coach for two months, and when a woman coach came in, she dismantled the team,” Tanik recalled. “Six players transferred during my time at WVU. It was the toughest experience of my life.”

“I stayed my freshman year and played #1. I was absolutely miserable.”

While certain circumstances strengthen one’s resolve, for Tanik, the choice to stay or leave was difficult.

“I vowed to stay and to come back my sophomore year and do better,” Tanik said intimating that the program and morale could not drop lower.

“Somehow, ” she signed, “it was worse.”

It was no secret that Tanik wanted out, and needed a fresh start elsewhere. So in November of that year (2011), Tanik asked for her release.

Instead of a leaving Morgantown behind, Tanik was unceremoniously dumped.

“I was kicked off the team.”

Tanik had to stay at West Virginia, now without tennis, without a team, without confidence and with dwindling hope.

Facebook Connection Leads to ECU

After being discarded like a nine of spades in a game of euchre, Tanik quickly arrived at Plan B.

“I had trained a few years earlier with a player in Raleigh in the junior ranks,” Tanik said. “She seemed happy on Facebook and was playing at East Carolina and it sounded like she was having an awesome time.”

That player was Neena Wanko.

“I texted her and asked if she reckon Coach (Tom Morris, ECU) would be interested in me. We exchanged numbers and I went on a visit to Greenville.”

“Coach Morris said come, but he had never watched me play,” Tanik said. “I was so thankful for a second chance. I was hoping he wouldn’t think I was some awful person.”

With bundles of nerves building, Tanik showed up on campus and met her future head coach.

“He didn’t really ask too much about the situation at West Virginia,” she said. “I had won some pretty good matches at WVU, and told him I was ready to work and ready to play.”

One Final Obstacle

For Tanik, the offer from Coach Moore came within a few days. Already weighing another option at UNC-Greensboro, once the Pirates stepped to the plate, the choice was simple.

Tanik was going to be a Pirate.

However, as if Tanik’s voyage across the ocean hadn’t seen enough adversity, she encountered one last impediment.

Like the others, this one was also beyond Tanik’s control.

“The day after Coach Moore offered me, I had appendicitis.”

Tanik’s sense of timing needs a bit of work, but her sense of humor still won over her new coach.

Thrilled to be a new Pirate, Tanik dead-panned to her coach a memorable question.

“If I die, will I still have the offer?”

Last season, Tanik won 17 matches at #2 singles, earned all-CUSA honors, and is playing her final collegiate season #1 for ECU as team captain.

After tap-dancing through the U.S. juniors to a forgettable period in West Virginia to her ultimate college experience at ECU, Tanik realizes that future are crafted swiftly. And after zig-zagging through the world of U.S. tennis are to return to the Triangle,

Tanik’s future plans include a comfortable migration from one court to another.

Tennis to law.

The Tanik way.

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