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empiremaker03
May 14th, 2003, 08:05 PM
Copyright 2003 Nationwide News Pty Limited
Australian Magazine
May 10, 2003 Saturday

WHAT JELENA DID NEXT

Pushy tennis parents are nothing new, but Damir Dokic was hard to beat. Now, with a new coach, new fianc and a fresh desire to represent the country she rejected, his daughter aims to leave her past behind.

Jelena Dokic was the future of tennis. She still may be. First, though, she has to sort out a life that once seemed blessed by every possible advantage. At Wimbledon in 1999, she announced herself with one of the most unlikely results in the grand old tournament's history. A 16-year-old qualifier, ranked 129th in the world, she destroyed then world No 1 Martina Hingis 6-2 6-0 in the first round. "It was remarkable that Dokic, playing in only her third grand slam, did not tighten when the end was near," a leading tennis writer observed. "If anything, her pace of shot increased."

Dokic was the obedient daughter of a Serbian family who in 1994 had left Belgrade and apparently found an idyllic new life in Australia. The Williams sisters were still a rumour waiting to happen. But even then there was a shadow over her future, cast by the domineering and somewhat sinister figure of her father, Damir. Pushy parents, of course, were hardly new in the world of professional tennis, but even by the standards of the genre, Damir was behaving in a way that was both extreme and highly disruptive.

He was a big man in every sense, a burly, bearded, fiery figure who soon established a reputation for falling out with just about everybody his daughter came into contact with. He became a serial nuisance at tournaments, almost from the moment Dokic joined

the women's tour four years ago. He was ejected from the DFS Classic in Birmingham in 1999 after calling members of the Edgbaston Priory club "Nazis who supported the bombing of Yugoslavia". Later that day, police arrested him "for his own safety" after he lay down in the middle of a busy road. At the Australian Open he was involved in a scuffle with a camera crew, at Wimbledon he smashed a journalist's mobile phone (before producing a gold credit card and offering to pay for it), and he was thrown out of the US Open after flying into a rage when charged $A18 for a piece of salmon in the players' restaurant. The WTA responded by barring him from tournaments for six months.

Dokic tried to avoid commenting on her father's behaviour, but was ready to excuse him when she did. It was never easy, though. She said after the Birmingham episode: "Nothing bad has been done. It was nothing different from what you see all over the world . Probably my father will not be as loud next time."

For years she tolerated his behaviour, even when her career began to stall, and many were saying that he was at least partly to blame. But now, it seems, there has been a dramatic change in the Dokic family arrangements. These days the family is back in Europe (via a short stint in Florida). But they are no longer together.

During an interview in Miami, where she reached the quarter-finals of the Nasdaq-100 Open, the 20-year-old says her home is now Monaco. And your parents live in Belgrade? "Yes." And how are things between you? "Things are fine. They don't travel with me, so it's a little bit different from what it was. But things are fine."

Sources in Belgrade say that her father may try to reclaim her when the women's tour comes to Europe for the clay-court tournaments leading up to the French Open, starting later this month. Damir Dokic is said to cut an increasingly forlorn figure as contact becomes more infrequent with the daughter he takes credit for turning into a top player. (He is described in the tour handbook as her coach, but she tells me he has been supplanted by Heinz Gunthardt.) Neighbours talk of Damir's sullenness when he walks the family's dogs in the Vozdovac neighbourhood of the Serbian capital.

He is known to be particularly upset by his daughter's relationship with the Brazilian racing driver Enrique Bernoldi, to whom, Dokic tells friends, she is engaged. (A ring on the appropriate finger is her only public statement on this, while Bernoldi has been seen in a T-shirt that reads "I love Jelena".) "She didn't tell me about it [the relationship] and when I read about it in newspapers I didn't believe it," Damir said at the end of last year. "I don't like him. I hope it doesn't last long." One theory is that Damir, a supporter of the right-wing nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj, just can't tolerate

a nice Serbian Orthodox girl dating a Catholic boy.

Dokic's tense relationship with her parents - at the same time she is said to retain a strong bond with her younger brother, Savo - is easy to detect from her comments. She becomes irritated at the mention of a story, published in Britain last August, that the family was moving to London after her father failed to get planning permission for a home and tennis centre on a prime site in Belgrade. "I never said anything about that, so I don't know where you got it from," she replies. "Neither was I quoted as saying anything about it, which I didn't, so you might have to ask whoever you heard it from." It was her father who told Belgrade radio: "I'm going to write Jelena off as a Belgrade citizen. I want her to become a British citizen."

"Well, you're going to have to ask him then, not me," she says sharply.

A family bust-up became public shortly after the London story circulated. Dokic asked officials of the Generali Open in Linz, Austria, not to issue her parents with accreditation. She tried to deny this, saying that when the story broke she had only just arrived in Linz and wouldn't have had time "to say anything to anyone". But Peter-Michael Reichel, the tournament organiser in Austria, said at the time: "We have been ordered by the WTA not to issue VIP passes to Jelena's parents." He also said that Dokic and her parents had had a major row in Germany, two weeks before, and added: "Damir Dokic is known as a troublemaker and was even arrested once during a tournament, so we have to be careful."

Dokic believes that events have made her grow up fast. "I think I did this a little bit quicker than I might have done because I had to cope with so many things," she says. "It made me a little bit more mature and generally made me a better person, a stronger person. I've had to deal with things that maybe other people of my age haven't had to." Certainly Dokic has discovered what a hard place the world can be, rather in the same way that young people who live in areas that are deprived or at the centre of conflicts pass quickly through childhood. It instils in them more of a wary knowingness than maturity. The latter suggests a stability and social ease that Dokic has still to acquire.

Her sweet-hitting game is basically the same one she brought with her from Australia for that wonderful, uninhibited romp to the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 1999. Stories that it was only a bullying father that made her play the game are not borne out by the naturalness of her strokeplay and the obvious pleasure she gets from playing. Nor are they borne out by Dokic. She is the first to give her father credit for introducing her to tennis, and is clearly grateful. "When I was six, I think, my dad brought me to a tennis club. I started with him and then I went to tennis school in Belgrade, and I liked it."

Dokic is at pains to point out that there was no great plan in her early years, and certainly no coercion. "I've never really looked on tennis as a profession or a career," she says of the sport that has already earned her nearly $5 million in prize money. "It just became something I did every day and something I liked doing. I don't regard at it as something I have to get up in the morning to do, because I want to get up to do it."

Craig Miller, who was coach at the NSW Institute of Sport when Dokic joined the tennis squad there, recalls her enthusiasm. "She would be there hitting on the wall, waiting for me," he says, "and not just hitting on the wall, but absolutely grinding it. Nearly knocking the wall over." Miller also remembers how competitive she was. "The moment she walked out on court, you knew she was going to win. She had the mental capacity to make her body work extremely hard." Warren Jacques, another noted Australian coach, likens her to a more athletic version of Jennifer Capriati. "The way she moves on court is exceptional," he says.

Few doubt that it was Damir Dokic who decided to pull the family out of Australia, announcing the decision at the same time as he alleged that the draw for the 2001 Australian Open, which paired his daughter with the top seed Lindsay Davenport in the first round, had been fixed to force her early exit. "The country should protect its own player," he said. "She feels betrayed and that no-one likes her."

Although she has not been back for either of the past two Australian Opens, she says she enjoyed her time in the country. "I had a lot of fun. It was good.

I was always treated well there," she insists, but again becomes edgy when asked why the family left: "I don't want to get into that. It was a decision that was made a few years ago. I'm fine the way I am now."

The likeliest reason for the family leaving Australia is that Damir saw control over his daughter slipping away, a control that many believe has stopped her game developing. She has performed well enough, winning five tournaments in the past two years, starting with the Italian Open in Rome in May 2001, but given her potential, she might easily have achieved more. Lesley Bowrey, a Wimbledon semi-finalist and doubles champion in the '60s, coached her for a time in Australia. "The last couple of years have not been her best," she says. "There hasn't been an improvement. I think Damir has kept her back and I hope she will now do what she needs to do. She is a good kid and used to be lots of fun. I don't see that in her, but maybe now she will get it back."

Former Davis Cup player John Alexander recently spoke in support of Dokic returning to Australia (she holds a dual Australia-Yugoslav passport). "It will be her decision alone this time," he said, "and I think she has the courage to play Fed Cup and under the Australian flag again, which are the requirements to represent at the Athens Olympics next year."

In fact, negotiations for her return are well advanced. "We would welcome her back with open arms," Tennis Australia director Mike Daws said last month. But Federation Cup selector Liz Smylie remains unconvinced of Dokic's commitment: "I think it needs to go way beyond 'welcoming her with open arms'; otherwise you'd be the laughing stock, quite frankly."

In any case, with her newfound independence Dokic has done what Bowrey seemed to be urging her to do and teamed up with Gunthardt, one of the tour's leading coaches, who once fine-tuned the game of Steffi Graf, the player Dokic most admires and who also had well-publicised problems with an unstable father-cum-coach. She says she is not impatient for further success. "More wins will come eventually . My tennis is not yet where I know I can take it."

If Dokic has managed to distance herself from her father, that just leaves the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, to sort out. By way of acknowledging their dominance of the power game, Dokic is spending more time in the gym and improving the physical side of her game. "We've seen them lose in the past couple of years," she says, "so they can be beaten again."

:wavey: Good luck at the French Jelena

lee station
May 14th, 2003, 11:58 PM
Later that day, police arrested him "for his own safety" after he lay down in the middle of a busy road
LOL What a crazy squarehead

auntie janie
May 15th, 2003, 12:12 AM
Jelena has not got just Venus & Serena to deal with, but also Kim, Justine, Amélie, Jennifer, and many others who have passed her. But she is so young;and she does .know she has what it takes to win tournaments, since she has done so in the past.

Best of luck to her. I recommend a long talk with Mary Pierce, who handled a similar situation very, very well. :hearts:

treufreund
May 15th, 2003, 02:23 AM
Why would Jelena be concentrating on the Williams? She has lost to many, many players including Sugiyama, Bovina, Coetzer, Hantuchova, Clijsters, Henin-Hardenne, Davenport, Capriati, Mauresmo and on and on and on...