Dokic took giant step in Sarasota last year
AP FILE PHOTO
Jelena Dokic, shown during her loss to Kim Clijsters in Key Biscayne last week, won the Sarasota Tournament without dropping a set last year.
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By MIC HUBER
Jelena Dokic was in a zone. The way she was handling opponents made Dokic look as invincible as Superwoman battling the forces of evil.
It was one year ago this week, when professional tennis hit Sarasota, that Dokic displayed a dominating performance that bordered on perfection as she ran through the tournament field. It looked as if Dokic was playing against a bunch of amateurs.
Approaching her 19th birthday, Dokic won the singles title of the $140,000 Women's Tennis Association event without losing a set. As if to prove it was no fluke, Dokic teamed with Elena Likhovtseva to win the doubles title as well.
"I had fun here last year," Dokic understated. "I did well here."
At the top of her game, Dokic used Sarasota as a springboard that would take her to a career-high No. 4 in the world by August. Yet, even as she was having the best results of her life, Kryptonite lurked nearby.
The strengths in her game, those that took Dokic near the top of women's tennis, were also a factor in what was holding her back from going any further.
She's back this year, the No. 1 seed in the 2003 Sarasota Clay Court Classic that starts Monday at The Meadows Country Club. But a lot has changed, and is changing, about her tennis.
"I don't have everything in my game that I should," Dokic explained last week as she prepared for the $140,000 Women's Tennis Association tournament. "I don't think my game is as developed as it should be. I realized that and I said, 'I have to go back a little bit before I can go forward. But I have to do this if I want to go further.'"
Dokic has always been able to hit the ball. Wonderfully quick hands and solid strokes were enough to win her a ton of matches. But there were days when her serve would let her down and other days where, when she got in a tough match, her lack of movement would do her in. There were times where her focus might wander at the wrong time, or the need to hit shot after shot to win a point would wear her down.
"I am more mature than I was last year," she said.
Dokic deserves credit for seeing she can do more in the game, and taking the steps to get it done. The fact that she lists Steffi Graf as the tennis person she most admires should make it no surprise that she is now being coached by Heinz Gunthardt.
It was Gunthardt who coached Graf while she was winning a dozen Grand Slam titles. The two met up for the first time in November in Monaco, where Dokic now resides. They joined forces in December and soon Gunthardt began traveling with Dokic.
"It has been fun. He knows so much," said Dokic, who had listed her father, Damir, as her coach since joining the tour in 1998.
Her father had been known as much for his troubles off the court and his battles with the tennis community as his ability to coach.
Gunthardt, who won five ATP tournament titles as a player, brings a solid pedigree as coach.
Friday, Gunthardt and Dokic spent more than two hours on the court at The Meadows, trying to speed up the transition form hard courts to clay. While Gunthardt has had tremendous success as a coach, he is not a miracle worker. And that means it may take some time before Dokic sees the results she is after. She insists she is patient enough to ride through the tough times to get to where she wants to go, as long as she doesn't fall out of the top 10 for any extended amount of time.
Dokic suffered some losses that disappointed her early in the year but she got to the quarterfinals at the Nasdaq-100 Open last week before losing to Kim Cljisters.
While Dokic is preaching patience, saying she now is thinking more long term than short term, Gunthardt insists she has the game to win now, while working on the things that can pay off even bigger rewards in the future.
"I do not believe in changing one's game and in the process losing matches because of those changes," Gunthardt says. "What you want to do is make sure what she's done in the past stays as solid as it was and add a couple of ingredients.
"It's not like she is a junior player, she is an accomplished professional."
She is a professional who possesses wonderful hands. What Gunthardt is trying to do is bring out her athleticsm and increase her movement.
And have her move naturally into the court when her opponent hits a short ball.
"On the athletic side, she has quite a ways to go before she reaches her potential," Gunthardt says.
In fact, Gunthardt says Dokic is almost the exact opposite of Graf.
While Graf had uncanny speed around the court, Gunthardt says the former No. 1 did not have particularly good hands when it came to making shots.
"Jelena has got tremendous hands, but is not naturally a sprinter at this stage," he said. "No one knows how quick she can be with the proper training."
Not quite 20, Dokic has the time. In fact, she is at a stage in her career where many players' progress slows down for a while as they move into adulthood. Suddenly there are more things to think about than hitting a tennis ball. Focus sometimes suffers.
"That is normal," Gunthardt said. "There is more to life than just playing tennis. There is often a stutter until they refocus. Then they may play better than ever, who knows."
Playing any better than she did here last year would make Dokic pretty scary.
Very nice read for me. Just thought I'd share it.