Tennis Focus On

JELENA DOKIC: THE GIRL INTERRUPTED

When in June 22, 1999 Martina Hingis takes the court to play in the first round of Wimbledon, she never would have imagined that the nightmare that began during Roland Garros’ final would have gone on in the sacred courts of the “All England Tennis Club”. Martina is warming up keeping her usual air of superiority, but from the early stages of the match it soon becomes clear that there is something kinda “disturbing” in the fierce look of her opponent, a blonde girl born in Croatia, but grown up in Serbia and with the Australian passport, which occupies the 129th position of WTA rankings. The Swiss is not only the world number one, she is also the prodigy that was able to triumph on Centre Court at only sixteen years old. At the same age that Jelena Dokic imposes herself with the score of 6-2 6-0 against the former Champion, in only fifty minutes. The most humiliating defeat for Martina Hingis. The springboard for Jelena Dokic. “I should have been nervous, but I wasn’t. I had no pressure, I just won” Dokic said in her press conference. Nervous, in her place, was her father-coach, Damir, a big man with a long beard, a brawler who only a week earlier had been arrested during the tournament in Birmingham for disturbing the match, after calling the umpire a “Nazi”, assaulting a WTA officer and having stretched out, drunk, in the middle of the road blocking traffic.

Jelena Dokic was born in Osijel, April 12, 1983, but being her father from Belgrade, the family soon moved to Serbia. Jelena’s parents are employed in not so “comfortable” works: father Damir  is a truck driver while her mother Liliana works in a bakery. Little money and no prospects until things took a turn for the better. Jelena is eight years old when the home TV is tuned to a channel that broadcasts a tennis match involving Monica Seles. Match that Jelena watches with her dad Damir who perhaps has in that moment the happiest intuition of his life: to enroll his daughter in a tennis course. It is the turning point for Dokic family. And, in order to help their daughter’s talent grow, Jelena’s parents decide to leave their country: chosen destination, Australia.

If in 1786 the British government approved the establishment of a penal colony at Botany Bay, in Sydney Harbour, where prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment were confined, it is in the oldest city in Australia that Damir Dokic condemns the eleven years old Jelena to some kind offorced laborson the tennis court. This new country welcomes with open arms the child prodigy who turned professional in 1998, won the U.S. Open juniors, and at only fifteen years old became the youngest “aussie” to be chosen for Federation Cup. That Jelena Dokic has the makings of a champion, it is shown at Wimbledon in 1999 when, after her sensational win over Martina Hingis, continues her run to the quarterfinals where she bumps into Alexandra Stevenson, who was at her first participation in the Championships as well and coming from the qualifying draw like the Australian. At the end of the season Dokic is ranked number 43 in the world and the 2000 season promises to be amazing. In Rome she collected a prestigious victory over Venus Williams and at Wimbledon she reached the semifinals, where she was defeated by Lindsay Davenport. In September, she also defends the colors of Australia at the Sydney Olympic Games but, when disputing the match for the third place, bronze medal ends at the neck of her idol: Monica Seles.

Even if disqualified by WTA in march, 2001 dad Damir still manages to make his voice heard, and when the first round of the Australian Open comes and Jelena is combined with Davenport, the “father-master” accused the organizers to pilot the draws to penalize his daughter: “I’m not surprised that in Melbourne boards are sabotaged. Australians are racists and fascists: they killed the Aborigines as if they were rabbits. From sons of criminals and prostitutes cannot come out a healthy country.” The change of nationality is sudden and Jelena back to basics, so to Serbia. Diatribe and interludes that seem to devolve too Jelena Dokic who in the month of may, 2001 won her first WTA tournament in Rome, defeating Amelie Mauresmo in the final. Success followed by the winsin Tokyo and Moscow. The climb continues and if in the Grand Slams tournaments Jelena is stopped just by players like Davenport, Capriati and Hingis, the successes on grass-courts in Sarasota and Birmingham allow her to reach the fourth spot in WTA rankings in august, 2002.

The beginning of the end for Jelena coincides when, in 2003, dad Damir is made aware of the affair between his daughter and a Formula 1 driver, Enrique Bernoldi. The father is convinced that Jelena has gone insane and should be subjected to psychiatric treatment, from his point of view only a nervous breakdown can justify the desire to spend time with a man who is not him. But Jelena turns away. A choice probably inevitable, but all of a sudden, maybe she starts to feel like a puppet deprived of its puppeteer. In one thing Damir was not wrong: Bernoldi is not the right person for her and soon the subsidence predicted by the father arrives on court as well, so that, within a couple of years, Dokic scatters everything for which she had fought since her childhood. At the end of 2004 she falls in 125th position in WTA rankings and, after a year of stop, in the 351 th place.

Back in Sydney, Jelena enjoys a wild card at the Australian Open, but she loses in the first round to Virginie Razzano after failing two match points. Dad Damir reappears bullying, and thunders: “I should drop a nuclear bomb on Sydney. Australians with the help of Croatia and the Vatican have subjected her to brainwashing. I also thought of killing an Australian in retaliation, but it would not do anything for me”. Jelena loses herself again, so much that in december 2006 the world ranking sees her occupy the 621th position. Meanwhile Damir, talking to a Serbian newspaper, complains about the alleged abduction of his daughter by the hands of her former boyfriend, the brother of former coach Tin Bikic. Two days after Jelena cannot help but deny, then eclipse again, and now has to fight a even bigger shadow than her father: depression.

Disappeared from the WTA rankings in 2008, Jelena Dokic starts again from challengers, winning three titles ITF $ 25,000 in Florence, Caserta and Darmstandt, finishing the season as number 178 in the world. While claiming to “not be any more in tennis world” and having to start all over again, in January 2009 the organizers of the Australian Open give her a wild card and she repays the trust by defeating Paszek, Chakvetadze, Wozniacki and Kleybanova before succumbing to Dinara Safina in the quarterfinal. Jelena is only twenty-six years old, but the one that could be the season of redemption proves to be a disappointment whenever there is a major tournament. Yet she wants to move up the ranks and to do so, after yet another first round at the U.S. Open remedied, she is thrown back into the challenger circuit, grabbingtwo wins in Athens and Joue Les Tours.

Tennis is not the most important thing in the world, but it’s something I love.” Jelena continues the parade of ITF tournaments for almost all 2010, earning valuable points through the wins in Contrexeville, Bucharest and Vancouver. “I do not know how many other girls have suffered what I have suffered” reveals Jelena, who seems to be able to get rid of that father guilty of abusing her mind. She is no longer the hungry and angry teenager that seemed destined to rise to the top of the rankings before the age of twenty, but being able to achieve a semblance of balance allows it to look to the future with confidence. In 2011, Jelena  after eight years comes back triumphing in a WTA tournament in Kuala Lumpur, where she defeated Lucie Safarova in the final with a score of 2-6 7-6 6-4. Returning among the top 60 tennis players in the world, trying to scale the mountain stubbornly refusing that something is irreparably cracked inside her. Or maybe just the tennis gods have decided to deny her a second chance.

Maybe is the “Girl, Interrupted at Her Music” by Jan Vermeer, so much pervaded by a sense of suspension, to be closer, more than any other, to Jelena Dokic’s experience. To describe the painting in the novel “The girl interrupted” by Susanna Kaysen pen gives life to words which may be output from Jelena Dokic’s mind: “The look of the girl points out of the picture, ignoring the music teacher. She is young and distracted and the teacher urges her to give attention. But she looks away, searching for a look that aims to meet her. Interrupted while playing, as it had been my life, interrupted in the music of seventeen. It had been her life, torn and fixed to a canvas. A moment rendered immobile for all other moments, whatever they were or could have been. What life can be cured?

Growing up in the myth of Monica Seles, Jelena seemed to have in common with her the aggressive tennis, the determination, competitive ferocity. The difference is that while Seles on court was ready to spit out blood and soul because winning was a personal matter for her, behind the grim look of Jelena Dokic were hidden funds of despair, anguish, truth untold. It was not herself that Jelena had to please, but a father, whose faults, in a perfect biblical style, had affected his own child.

Jelena Dokic 5

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