Jelena Dokic Tour Results: Interviews and Articles

"Interview: Jelena Dokic"
Guardian Unlimited Sport, UK
17th June, 2002

DFS Classic 2002 in Birmingham, Great Britain
Singles Final on 16th June, 2002
Jelena Dokic def. Anastasia Myskina, 6-2, 6-3.
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Guardian Unlimited Sport


      Tennis 
      Interview: Jelena Dokic 


      The 19-year-old won her first title on grass yesterday and, with the 
      return of her controversial father and a favourable draw, could be the 
      player best equipped to challenge the Williams sisters at Wimbledon. By 
      Richard Jago 

      Monday June 17, 2002
      The Guardian 

      Given that her rivals are built like Amazons, her dad has been depicted as 
      mad, and her home has three times been whisked halfway around the world, 
      Jelena Dokic's appearance comes as something of a surprise. Lightly built 
      and shiny-skinned, this elfin-faced 19-year-old scarcely looks equipped 
      for the world in which she has had to survive. 

      For those who don't know her conflict-ridden story, Dokic escaped war-torn 
      Serbia, fell out with Tennis Australia, was unable to settle in Florida 
      and found herself driven full circle back to Yugoslavia. 

      But she has remained loyal to the father who was ejected from two grand 
      slam tournaments and banned from a third. And despite facing opponents who 
      are five inches taller or 30 pounds heavier she has stayed in contention. 
      Against an unkind fate she has stood ruthlessly contemptuous. 

      It takes less than a minute to discover how. "You learn how to do it 
      yourself," she says curtly. "I came from a really tough situation and I 
      have had to deal with it." 

      As in life, so in tennis. It is with the same drive for survival that she 
      has coped with a cut-throat circuit in which last year she reached the 
      world's top 10 and next week at Wimbledon will be seeded to reach the 
      quarter-finals. 

      "I learned as a junior that you have to be stronger than everyone else," 
      she says. "It was good for me that there was animosity from the other 
      players. I never had any help on the mental side. I don't like that sort 
      of thing - you have to figure it out for yourself." 

      This is Dokic's way. She insists she does not know self-doubt, speaks 
      openly of her self-esteem and says she is always mentally strong. Whether 
      or not that is an accurate self-portrait does not matter; this is the way 
      she has to tell herself to be, because that is what she has learned from 
      her itinerant family. "This," as she sometimes says, "is the way we are." 

      Whatever the potential damage of having imbibed such forceful resilience, 
      the advantages are obvious on an infuriatingly rainy June day in England 
      when her attitude is contrasted to that of some of her rivals. 

      The grass is damp, soft, and awkward to play on. Some players, more used 
      to the greater certainties of hard or clay surfaces, are inclined to give 
      up on it. Not Jelena. She, naturally, "can deal with that". The words are 
      beginning to sound like a catchphrase. 

      But all that uprooting, was that not sometimes a bit too hard to handle? 
      "That's just a tennis player's life - we have to be on the move," she 
      says, evading the point, which was about her roots. 

      She is more forthright about the media, alleging they contributed to her 
      decision to quit Australia. Putting up with the press is not so easy. 
      "Sometimes I'm just not in the mood for them, but I deal with that better 
      than I did," she reckons, and immediately proves her point by unmasking a 
      question hinting at some degree of shared technical knowledge as an 
      attempt to ingratiate. 

      Dokic does not use the flailing topspin strokes with the dramatic 
      upper-body swivel that can make it difficult to time the ball on slick 
      grass with a low bounce; instead she batters away with a flat swing and a 
      hissing that sounds as though it would belong at a Great Western Railway 
      reunion. Even if the noise were better left unmentioned, it seems like a 
      decent idea to suggest that her technique gives her an advantage. But 
      apparently not. 

      "It's the men who mostly hit like that [top, spin]," she scoffs. "Most of 
      the women hit flatter. It's not an advantage." She slightly lowers her 
      eyelids. 

      Better to have remembered how Tony Roche, then the Australian Davis Cup 
      coach no less, was dismissed rather sensationally in the summer of 2000, 
      ostensibly because daughter and father decided that they could work out 
      the technical side for themselves. 

      That is one reason Jelena has found it hard to accept that her father has 
      not been with her this year. As one would expect from so guarded a family, 
      the reasons for his absence remain unclear. 

      The explanation may be related to the six-month ban from the WTA Tour, 
      served for abusive behaviour in the players' lounge at the US Open in 
      2000, even though Damir Dokic is said to have become a reformed character 
      since it ended in March last year. But if relieving him of some of the 
      stress of supporting his embattled offspring might sound to some like a 
      wise choice, that is not Jelena's view. 

      "He wants to take a break. He's got some other things he wants to do," she 
      says in a way that signals she will be doing nothing to make her answer 
      less mysterious. "It would be better if he were here. But I think he will 
      be there at Wimbledon." 

      Instead Liliana Dokic has become Jelena's travelling assistant. She does 
      the organising, the packing, the laundry; she ensures that her daughter is 
      where she is meant to be on time, plans the journey and a dozen other 
      things which apparently Damir does not do. Mum brings loads of advantages. 
      Dad helps just with the tennis. Despite that, she still misses him. 

      The extravagantly bearded former truck driver has not been averse to some 
      embarrassing straight talking with strangers and has a liking for a drink 
      or three, but he has been around from the beginning of his daughter's 
      career and that is a massive building-block in their relationship. That 
      might explain why she denies allegations that he has been too tough on 
      her. But there is a pause and the old catchphrase clicks in. 

      "Actually I have to deal with them both," she says. This teenager passed 
      into adulthood a long time ago. 

      Curiously, Damir Dokic has one thing in common with Richard Williams, the 
      father/coach to Venus and Serena. Damir has helped his daughter without 
      having much background in the game. Williams has done likewise. He, 
      however, is said to have picked up his knowledge from books. Damir has 
      not. Which is why it amazes people that his daughter still claims him as a 
      coach. 

      "When you know your game it's not very hard to figure out what to work 
      on," Jelena says. "You know where you win your matches and where you lose 
      them. The two of us together know what we have to do." 

      But then the guard slips. "I do get homesick and lonely," she suddenly 
      confides. "So I would rather have someone from my family doing it all with 
      me." 

      And for a few intriguing moments the real Jelena emerges. Of her little 
      brother Savo, a black belt in taekwondo at 11, she says: "We love each 
      other as much as you can." But does she have any friends on the tour? Can 
      she possibly have any friends, one wonders. 

      "There are some good people but I don't want to name anyone," she answers. 
      Jealousies are rife. What about Monica Seles (a former Yugoslav)? "We 
      talk. She's had one of the toughest of careers. Her father is such a great 
      loss to her." She stops. The Williams sisters? She becomes more fluent. 

      "I am not best friends with them but I talk with them more than anyone 
      else," she says. "A lot of people think they are arrogant and not good for 
      the game, but I totally disagree. Both have good personalities." 
      Dokic appears to identify with their predicament in a white-dominated 
      game. But she does not identify with their tennis. For the first time she 
      becomes negative about herself. 

      "Size and power are a big advantage - it's definitely more difficult for 
      the smaller players to beat them," she says. "They are a level above 
      everyone else. A lot of players feel that and they get down when they play 
      them. 

      "The game is becoming like that. It's all just speed," she grumbles. "It's 
      not what it was 20 years ago and I don't think technique or anything else 
      matters." 

      The thought of Wimbledon shines through this little piece of gloom. In 
      three attempts she has never failed to get to the fourth round or beyond. 
      "Oh yes, I would definitely love to win this more than anything else. 
      Everything started for me there," she says of her defeat of the top-seeded 
      Martina Hingis in the first round of Wimbledon in 1999. "I go into every 
      year relaxed and confident. 

      "Maybe I have a relationship with the English fans more than any other 
      country. I've always had a lot of support every year. I think it's because 
      I've always done well at Wimbledon. In England they follow tennis more 
      than anyone else." Actually, it is Wimbledon they follow more than anyone 
      else, but it is best to let that pass. 

      For by now she is proffering a different view of those giant Williams 
      sisters. "I would have to catch them on a bad day, but they are beatable - 
      we have seen them beaten. The more you play them the more comfortable you 
      get." And the more she dwells on that thought, the more comfortable she 
      appears to become. 

      Physically Dokic is stronger than she was a year ago. She has needed to 
      become so because injuries, a problem until a few months ago, had to be 
      held at bay. How well they have healed may determine how well she does. 
      For if the body is properly prepared, this particular mind was ready long 
      ago. 


      You've read the piece, now have your say. Email your comments, as sharp 
      or as stupid as you like, to the sport.editor@guardianunlimited.co.uk.


Guardian Unlimited  Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002

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The interview article quoted from the Guardian Unlimited website - http://sport.guardian.co.uk/tennis/

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