Jelena Dokic Tour Results: Interviews and articles
"I'm over Australia" Interview with Jelena Dokic
by Kerrie Davies
"New Idea" weekly magazine - Issue No.13
17th April, 2001
"I'm over Australia"
In our exclusive interview, controversial tennis star Jelena Dokic says she loves her life
in the US.
Deep in the Florida heartland, a teenage girl is counting down the days to her 18th birthday.
Her face glows at the thought of reaching the magic milestone.
Her radiant strength, bronzed beauty and promise draws admiring glances wherever she goes.
The girl is Jelena Dokic, and it is quite amazing what a difference moving home can make.
On the tennis court she still transforms into a warrior as she slams the ball st 170 km/h.
Off court, however, Jelena is serene and happy. Inspired by Madonna's latest video, she
poses for New Idea as the modern American cowgirl, her long blonde hair and blue eyes framed
by a straw cowboy hat.
The delighted grin is a far cry from the stressed, fingernail-biting, white-faced teenager
who, along with her father Damir, was regularly pictured below damning headlines on the front
page of Australian daily newspapers.
In fact, the only time Jelena looks remotely stressed in Florida is when she is talking about
her former home.
Jelena , then Australia's No.1 female tennis player, left Australia in a cloud of controversy
in January after announcing her decision to play for Yugoslavia.
[Pictures] Jelena and her family are very happy in Florida, where the former No.1 Australia
seed has 35 courts to practise on (right).
Contributing to the explosive decision were her deteriorating relations with Tennis Australia,
who she believes were unsupportive and harassing.
"I was their top-seeded player. They should have made more effort to protect me in the
Australian Open draw," she explains matter-of-factly.
The furore culminated in her being booed at the Australian Open and public demands that she
pay back the estimated $1 million Australian Tennis spent on her talent development. Finally
she and her family - dad Damir, mother Ljiljana and brother Savo - severed all ties with
Australia and moved to Florida in the US.
"I was pushed out of Australia by the media and Tennis Australia. I felt they really wanted
me out," Jelena insists. "I did what any other player in my position would've done. It got to
the point where it was unbearable."
"I know now that I made the right decision. It's a relaxing environment here. Nobody bothers
me. I know everybody. I'm not getting hassled and nobody cares what I do.
"Who knows what will happen in the future? This is my home now - I'm over that part of life
in Australia," Jelena says. She adds that she will not be playing in the Australian Federation
Cup team, despite the concerted efforts of Tennis Australia to persuade their former star
"The answer is, I won't be playing, full stop. It's as simple as that. After all the dramas,
I've made a conscious decision not to play in any national teams for now - for Australia or
Yugoslavia," she emphasises. "But I will be nominating Yugoslavia as my country when I enter
She sighs, "It was all blown out of proportion, definitely. It was a shock, for Australians
I think, but it's not really a big deal.
"If Australia was any other country, nobody would have cared. I haven't adopted another
country - why shouldn't I play for my birth country?
"It's hypocritical for Australians to embrace athletes who leave their own country to compete
for Australia - such as Tatiana Grigorieva - then turn around and condemn those who leave
Australia to play for the country of their birth." (Russian-born and raised Tatiana won a silver
medal in pole vaulting for Australia at the Sydney Olympic Games, to huge acclaim.)
Jelena, who was born in war-torn Yugoslavia, now lives with her family at the tennis and golf
resort known as Saddlebrook.
Incongruously surrounded by trailer parks, diners and swamps, the hotel and residential
resort is an oasis of cypress trees and luxury.
It is home to fellow tennis stars Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati. Jennifer, Jelena
explains, lives around the corner while golf champion Tiger Woods practises on the fairway
rolling past Jelena's back garden.
Down the road, Jelena has 35 tennis courts at her disposal a state-of-the-art gym and a
geranium and palm fringed resort pool. The only disconcerting element is the sight of alligators
snapping at fish in the golf course dams.
"Nobody worries about the gators," shrugs a Saddlebrook employee.
Damir, notorious for snaps of his own, is much more mellow than his reputation implies. He
seems lulled by the tranquility of the resort and the bright Florida sunshine and says with
a smile he is enjoying their new life.
Dressed head to toe in sportswear by Fila, who along with Head racquets are Jelena's sponsors,
Damir watches his daughter practise relentlessly with her training partner.
As Jelena comes off the court and collapses in a courtside chair, they speak softly together
in Serbian until Jelena bounds back onto the clay, a princess warrior ready for battle.
The stress and turbulence of the past few months, exacerbated by Damir's six month ban from
tournaments, has bound the father and daughter team even tighter, rather than splintering them
Her eyes darkening with anger, Jelena scornfully dismisses recent predictions that she will
dump Damir for good upon turning 18.
"If anything, all of what's happened has made us even closer than before. He worries and cares
what other people think, so we've had conversations and I've reassured him.
"He is my father, and yes, he is misunderstood. People only believe what they read. They have
no idea what a good man he is. They shouldn't judge us. He's always stuck by me and has been
with me forever. He wants the best for me.
"We're so close on court and off court, and I wouldn't trade him for anything. It's been
difficult to travel without him," Jelena acknowledges.
"But you bet used to it, you have to. It made me a better player because I matured with that.
I had to deal with him not being there."
His ban expires this month and Damir and Jelena's mum will alternate travelling so her younger
brother Savo, 10, can attend school at Saddlebrook without disruption.
"I'm looking forward to travelling with Jelena again on the tennis circuit," Says Damir.
"I missed it very much."
"I tried to forget about it and not read the papers, but of course you hear things," Jelena
"It was so hurtful when my family was written about. During the day I was busy, so I wouldn't
think about it and yes, in public. I think I dealt with it very well. I'm lucky that that it's
in my personality to block things out.
"But at night sometimes I would lie awake feeling upset, thinking about everything that had
"Now I think the whole experience has made me stronger and more mature. I'm better for it.
"You have to turn things around and make them positive, otherwise they can affect you mentally,
which is not good. If I'd stayed in Australia and the pressure had continued? Well for sure
it would have affected my tennis career. You get worn down dealing with that all the time."
Shown a recent newspaper article quoting Federation Cup Captain Lesley Bowrey that "Australia
should forget about Jelena and it was time we went our separate ways", Jelena reads it with
"You know what? She's right, she sighs, "Go our separate ways..."
She looks around the resort, towards the towering trees covered in moss and the inviting pool,
and brightens. "I like it here so much," she says.
"Look. I don't hate Australia. I lived there for eight years and I have close friends. But
right now, if I had to choose between the two? It would be here, for sure. It is perfect for
me, it feels like a more normal situation."
The family's luxury bungalow is complete with pool table and plunge pool and spa. Grand slam
posters of Jelena adorn the walls.
They have invested in the adjoining vacant land, intending to expand. Damir has been hard
at work in the garden, while in the large modern kitchen, Ljiljana makes what is probably the
only espresso in Saddlebrook, with her brand new coffee machine.
"American coffee is so weak," Jelena says, shuddering. Her mum nods.
"We like America very much," she says, "But not the coffee."
Whereas once the family scrimped by on Damir's truck driving earnings and Ljiljana's bakery
job in Fairfield, Sydney, life is now much, much better.
The garage houses a gleaming, new Mercedes four-wheel drive, which Damir likes driving "fast,
like Americans". "Americans drive much faster than Australians, which is very good," he says.
Now that the family has a car, Jelena has promised herself next she will buy a Mercedes
convertible for herself.
"We are very happy here," Damir continues, "It is a good place for Jelena - for all of us.
"It is not good for tennis in Australia. When she trained with (former Aussie tennis champion)
Mr.Tony Roche, she travelled an hour-and-a-half each way to practise. Here Jelena has a 10
"She does not have to fly so far for tournaments either. If Jelena flies from Australia to
Europe, she can't sleep for three days.
Apart from last month's tournament in Miami, where she made the quarter finals, Jelena has
spent the last two months practising, swimming and enjoying time with her family. Her new low-
stress lifestyle, reduced travel and penchant for buckets of fruit - Jelena eats half a watermelon,
a rockmelon, half a kilo of strawberries and some pears every day - is why she is gleaming with
good health and ready for the 2001 grand slams.
She is very close to Savo, who agrees that Jelena is a good sister, while cheekily shaking
his head. But asked if he feels protective of Jelena, Savo is serious.
"Yes," he says very carefully into the tape recorder, Jelena can't help smiling.
Jelena's 18th birthday has professional significance, with Jelena now able to play unlimited
tournaments on the Women's Tennis Association circuit. The new status means she will enhance
her profile, ranking and earnings.
Best of all, she now has Damir's blessing to have a boyfriend. He gestures with the same weary
resignation as Jelena when asked about his quote that he forbade her to have relationships.
"Of course she can have a boyfriend," he says, "Whoever she likes, it is not my decision."
"I'm too busy to have a relationship, and all that stuff about Carlos (Spanish tennis star
Juan Carlos Ferrero) was untrue. I barely know him," Jelena explains with a coy smile.
"I try to go out on a few dates and I'm looking forward to having a relationship when the
time comes. It's only natural.
"Your 18th birthday is special. I suppose I feel like I'm a woman now," Jelena says, her smile
widening. "I feel really good about myself.
"You know what? I think this is my year. I really do. I feel great. People on the circuit
have commented: "Jelena, you look so much better, not so stressed and you're smiling so much
"So it suits me here. I made the right decision."
By Kerrie Davies
Pictures: Nigel Wright
[Picture] Jelena has no plans to dump dad Damir as her manager.
[Picture] "At night I would lie awake feeling upset, thinking about everything that had been said."
[Notes] Top Blue Juice Jeans: Jelena's Own. Hat: Mid-Way Farm and Ranch Supplies. Land: Dlakes, Florida.
Dress and Top Bang Jeans: Jelena's Own.
Special thanks to Mr.Ljubisa Bojic (Yuba) and Mr.Neil Paton for your providing this article on your website.