The long road back
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AdvertisementFive years on, Jelena Dokic is back in action at Melbourne Park. Linda Pearce was there to watch.
JELENA Dokic's previous match at Melbourne Park was on a floodlit Rod Laver Arena, against the world No. 2 Lindsay Davenport.
An ordeal preceded by outrageous draw-rigging allegations and a tournament-eve defection to Serbia and Montenegro ended as a downcast Dokic left the stadium with her head down and her father waiting.
Almost five years later, the world No. 349 walked onto an outside court wearing a training T-shirt and cropped no-brand trackpants.
Far from a packed house, the audience comprised about 100 curious onlookers, including media representatives, several construction workers and a vocal opposition cheer squad. Again, Dokic was playing a higher-ranked opponent, but this time of the more obscure variety — Melbourne's Beti Sekulovski, the world No. 344.
Yesterday was not about grand slam success, but simply the right to progress to the second of the four matches Dokic must win to secure a place in the Australian Open's main draw.
The week-long training camp is over, and the wildcard play-off has begun, Dokic progressing to the next stage of her hoped-for resurrection with a patchy 6-2, 7-6 victory that qualified her for today's quarter-final against Queensland 16-year-old Shayna McDowell.
Significantly, Dokic was not alone. Her former coach, Lesley Bowrey, paid her own way from Sydney to join the 22-year-old she mentored and mothered through her late teenage years.
Bowrey said last week that she would do what she could to help — we told Dokic about Bowrey's offer and, one telephone conversation later, the reunion was complete.
"Jelena called and asked me to come down, so I'm here, and I'm very happy to be here, seeing how she goes in her matches and giving her support," said Bowrey, the dual French Open champion, who watched from courtside with Dokic's Croatian boyfriend Tin Bikic.
"She just sounded like the old Jelena and she just asked me if I would be prepared to come and coach her again, so I said, 'Yeah, I'd love to do that, I've just got to sort a few things out with my own coaching at home'. I'd like to spend some time with her. She said she owed things back to people, so maybe I'm one of those."
There is also a significant debt to Tennis Australia still outstanding, so it is not surprising that its new arrangements with Dokic are still to be completed.
Bowrey met player development boss Craig Tiley on Thursday asking for funding help to travel with Dokic next year, but the reality is that no player will be given cash handouts, and all must work within the stricter rules and accountability of the new Tennis Australia system.
"We're evaluating, and we're going to continue to evaluate it collectively," Tiley said. "We're looking at everything as part of the entire program, not just an isolated incident, so I didn't say yes and I won't say yes until we've finished looking at it as part of our entire program.
"We can't just provide funding for one and not another and I've got to deal with not just one but with all our Australian players, and provide the fairest and best system for all of them to be able to access.
"Jelena will either be part of our Fed Cup squad or one of our AIS athletes, and as part of that process, she will have an opportunity to access coaching, etc."
For Dokic, it is a long road back. Her fitness is improving after an intense training week, yet she still lacks confidence and touch. She made close to 40 unforced errors in two sets, struggled on serve at times, and took more than 90 minutes to win the first match she had played since an ITF claycourt tournament in Italy in August.
She told Bowrey of her nerves before going on court, and explained how she seemed to keep pulling off the ball while hitting her groundstrokes.
Her old coach replied that Dokic simply needed to believe in herself and the fact she was a good player (at least she was, not so long ago, and should be again).
"I think sometimes I get very defensive," Dokic said later, while claiming the performance exceeded her expectations. "I get nervous, which is normal, but I think that comes down to match play, and I haven't played a lot of matches.
"I've lost my feel for playing matches and for being at tournaments, so I expected quite a bit of that and I expect it to improve with each match."
For Dokic, the ideal scenario is that she will play three more in the next three days, starting this morning against McDowell. Already, progress has been made off-court, with the former world No. 4 noting that the initial frostiness from her peers has thawed.
"It's much better now than the first day," she said. "I was a little bit lost the first day and didn't know anybody, and a lot of people have tried to help me to fit in and it's a much better feel now and we all get along a little bit better."
The key is that she is also independent. No Damir, no troubles, no distractions. And Bowrey, who worried from afar, can now help from up close once again. "I saw Jelena the Wimbledon before last and she was just going through a terrible time," Bowrey said. "I watched her play and I felt so sad to think of all the work that we'd put in together, and it had come to this, but I knew it was all a mental thing.
"Now she's back on track … she's making her own decisions. I'd thought, 'My gosh, we might never see Jelena play again' because I used to always ask, 'Where is she?' and no one seemed to know. But she's back and she's only 22, so she's got some years ahead of her."
MEN: Peter Luczak d Adam Feeney 7-5, 6-3; Joe Sirianni d Scott Doerner 4-6, 6-2, 7-5; Andrew Derer d Robert Smeets 7-5, 6-3; Andrew Coehlo d Shannon Nettle 7-5, 7-6; Luke Bourgeois d Rameez Junaid 7-6, 6-7, 6-4; Alun Jones d Todd Reid 6-2, 4-6, 6-4; Marc Kimmich d Sadik Kadir 7-5, 6-2; Raphael Durek d Nathan Healey 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.
WOMEN: Trudi Musgrave d Lauren Breadmore 6-2, 6-3; Christina Horiatopoulos d Emily Hewson 4-6, 6-4, 7-5; Jelena Dokic d Beti Sekulovski 6-2, 7-6; Shayna McDowell d Daniella Dominikovic 6-3, 0-6, 6-3; Lisa D'Amelio d Tiffany Welford 6-4, 3-1 retired; Cindy Watson d Olivia Lukaszewicz 6-3, 6-2; Cassandra Barr d Holly Cao 6-4, 7-5; Monique Adamczak d Monique Wheeler 6-3, 6-1.
Threw my bad fortune
Off the top of
A tall building
I'd rather have done it with you
You don't have to hate your opponents to beat them - Kim Clijsters