ARTICLE: Dokic the happy workaholic
The Birmingham Post (newspaper)
9th June 2004
The happy workaholic
Hard-hitting Jelena Dokic tells Hyder Jawad she has found peace at last
In some ways, Jelena Dokic is the walking contradiction of women's tennis. She hits the ball harder than most players and has an obstinate demeanour, and yet, on closer inspection, she is dainty and fresh-faced.
Her appearance is what made her victory against Martina Hingis in the first round of Wimbledon in 1999 such an agreeable surprise. How could such a fragile 16-year-old girl, so relatively unknown, play with such power and panache?
Those attributes were evident when she was bashing the ball about on the practice courts with Magdalena Maleeva, the DFS Classic defending champion, at Edgbaston Priory yesterday.
By the end of the one-hour session, the balls were screaming for mercy, and Dokic was walking towards the changing rooms purring like a cat.
It had been a good day at the office.
"I figured that, with a lot of the players so big, I had to be stronger," she says. "Yes, I am hitting the ball well again, hitting it much harder over the past couple of weeks than before, and that is so important for me on the grass."
The constant themes in any conversation with Dokic are "grass", "practising" and "hard work". She plays more tournaments than anybody else and is often referred to as a tennis workaholic.
The problem is that, over the past six months, no matter how hard she has tried, and despite a desire to reassess herself, the results have not met with her approval. So far, in 19 matches this year, she has lost more than she has won.
A straight-sets defeat in the first round of the French Open to Tatiana Perebiynis last month suggested that perhaps her career had come to a crossroads, but such sentiments are premature because they do her little justice.
"I sometimes look at the rankings and think that I should be playing better," she says. "But I was No 5 in the world when I was 19 years old, and I am not that much older now.
"Maybe it has kind of caught up with me and, obviously, I am not playing as well as I should. I am not going to play well every year but, if I keep working hard, and keep practising hard, I am sure it will come back.
"I am still the same player that I was in the years when I was in the top ten. Maybe the travelling has got a bit too much. Sometimes I lose my concentration and focus at tournaments, and then, because of that, you lose your confidence. It is not easy.
"The good thing is that I like to practise and I like grass, and I know that I play well on grass, so hopefully things will turn around for me and I will come back."
The evidence is strong that she will. Few players have suffered - and overcome - the sort of problems that have dogged Dokic in recent years, so it is to her testimony that she is still touring the world in search of success on the tennis court.
How unfortunate that her energies have been taken up with family problems, issues of nationality, and petty jealousies within the game. For the most part, she has risen above it all, which cannot have been easy for a woman so young. It is hard to believe that this alluring Serb is still only 21.
"I am happy," she says. "Very happy. That is most important part, even if you are not playing well. You need to be happy, especially on the practice courts, where a lot of the work takes place.
"You have to enjoy what you do and draw strength from it. On the other hand, if you are not happy, it does not help your situation."
Her main situation today is her opening match of the DFS Classic against Shenay Perry of the United States, the world No 88, who sailed through the qualifying rounds.
"She [Perry] has already won a few matches, from the qualifying rounds to now so that will help her, but, no, I don't know too much about her," Dokic says.
"The most important thing is that I play the game the way I play it best. Grass is my favourite surface, always has been, and I don't think I should worry too much about my opponent."
And nor should she. Dokic has a good pedigree on grass. In addition to reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in 1999, the semi-finals in 2000, she won the DFS Classic in 2002.
Partly because of her victory here two years ago, and partly because of what she calls the special atmosphere of Edgbaston Priory, she has a special affection for Birmingham.
"I have a better feeling for a tournament that I have won," she says. "Even if you haven't won a tournament, but you have played well there, the courts and crowd feel that little bit different. You kind of feel comfortable, almost that you are at home, which is nice.
"I feel a sense of warmth here. I get a lot of support from all the tournaments in England, especially Wimbledon, and all of the people who come to watch."
Since that memorable victory against Hingis in 1999? "Yes, probably, because everything started for me there. I do think I have a special relationship with people in England, which is one reason why I like coming here."
For Wimbledon 2004, she has no expectations. Based on her present ranking, she will be seeded outside the top 16 and will therefore be projected to reach the third round.
Her ability, however, should be enough to take her to the quarter-finals and beyond. With Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters not playing this year, and the Williams sisters possibly on the wane, Dokic has her best chance since those heady days of 2000 when everything seemed possible.
"It is hard to know how things will go for me at Wimbledon because I have the week here at Birmingham and then a week at Eastbourne, and, hopefully, I can have a few matches under my belt," she says.
"With Wimbledon, a lot depends on the draw. I have done well there, but that has been when I have had a lot of practice. Even if I do not do well here and at Eastbourne, at least if I have a couple of matches, that would be good for me and my chances at Wimbledon."