Richard Hinds on the Dokic Saga c/p
Dokic saga has hit the pits
May 11 2003
By Richard Hinds
And Sophie thought her choice was difficult. For Jelena Dokic, it boils down to this. Love or 0-40?
Should she follow her heart and continue her relationship with Brazilian racing car driver Enrique Bernoldi? Or should she take notice of her drooping world ranking, ditch Bernoldi and beg daddy Damir to take another look at her forehand?
Of course, there is no point taking an instant poll on this one.
Anyone who has come within a topspin lob of the Dokic family soap opera will tell you Jelena is better off without her father. That her decision to leave home was long overdue. That she is now free to express herself. That her game will prosper as a result.
Even allowing for the close family bond, the sacrifices Damir made for Jelena's tennis and the understandable difficulties a young girl would face in severing ties with a domineering parent, it seemed an easy call to make. Especially when Damir was wrapped in the flag of St George after a day on the sauce at Wimbledon or haranguing cafeteria staff in New York about the price of fish.
For a couple of months now, those who have genuine concern for Jelena's wellbeing - and those who feign one in columns such as this - thought the bizarre family story had reached something approaching a satisfactory conclusion.
Jelena had been rescued from the clutches of Damir by the dashing Bernoldi. She had banned her father from watching her matches. She was being coached by the respected Heinz Gunthardt. She was even making noises about representing Australia - not that cuddling koalas should be a prerequisite for our approval.
All the key indicators suggested she was on the way to a personal happily ever after. But this is The Dokics, not The Waltons. So, naturally, there has to be a twist. In fact, there were two.
First, it became apparent Dokic was struggling under her new mentor, leading some - including perhaps Jelena herself - to the shock conclusion Damir might not have been such a bad coach after all. Maybe no Harry Hopman. But having supervised Jelena's impressive game, he clearly knew which end of the racquet to hold.
Then, hard on the heels of her miserable loss to someone called Iroda Tulyaganova came The Age's revelation Damir had effectively sacked Jelena. Won't have a bar of her. Not until she rids herself of "that idiot" Bernoldi.
Damir has never been seen smashing a journalist's mobile phone at a formula one track. But he clearly takes a keen interest in Bernoldi's career.
"Everyone says he is a formula one driver, but he is no one, nothing," he told The Age.
On this point, technically, Damir can't be contradicted. Enrique is actually an ex-formula one driver, having lost his job with the defunct Arrows team. He is now competing in the Nissan Dallara World Series against a bunch of F1 test drivers and other open-wheel wannabes. In his two F1 seasons, Bernoldi finished 21st and 22nd in the championship.
Jelena might not be supporting him financially, as Damir suggested, but you get the feeling she could overtake him.
None of this means Jelena should cave to her father's demand and ditch Bernoldi. Her boyfriend might not be as fast as his late countryman Ayrton Senna, but by taking on the father-in-law from hell, he has proven himself every bit as brave.
So how does the next episode of this popular melodrama play out?
Best-case scenario: Jelena remembers, despite reaching the quarter-finals at Roland Garros last year, she has never been at her best on clay and doesn't panic about her poor recent results.
Gunthardt's more attacking game plan gradually starts to pay dividends and by Wimbledon she is not only at the top of her game, but also enjoying the company of Bernoldi, who has finally worked out how to find fourth gear.
Meanwhile, disillusioned by his treatment in Serbia and Montenegro, Damir finds a new place of exile. However, there is an uneasy tension when he announces his candidacy for mayor of Baghdad.
Worst-case scenario: panicked by her slump in form, Jelena agrees to dump Bernoldi, who is now racing billycarts in New Guinea. Damir agrees to return on the condition he is given unlimited access to the players' cafeteria and can wear a flag of his choice.
Meanwhile, it turns out Damir wasn't kidding when he said he missed Australia. So a lucky Sydney resident wakes up and finds himself living next to the Dokics At No. 42.
"For now, Roddick seems to play with the intelligence of a fence post."
Greg Couch, Chicago Sun Times