Jelena Dokic Tour Results: Interviews
10 January, 1999
The Age.com.au - Daily News - 990110 - Tennis
Sunday 10 January 1999
"Beating on the door"
By LINDA PEARCE
TENNIS player Jelena Dokic has big plans: to be rich and famous, to buy
a luxury car and a big house. Doubt her ability, or destiny, at your
peril. That Dokic is still three months from her 16th birthday has not
deterred those who have dubbed her Australia's best female prospect
since Evonne Goolagong.
And nothing seems to bother the new darlinginwaiting. At the Hopman Cup,
the growing whisper that here, finally, was a talent to crow about,
became a nationally televised announcement. Plait flapping, smile
beaming and groundstrokes blazing, Dokic overcame a nervous thrashing
from Amanda Coetzer to spank top15 pair Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and
Sandrine Testud, and then hold her nerve against Asa Carlsson.
Those who had not heard of Dokic, despite her No.1 world junior ranking
and Fed Cup heroics in July, will now be wiser. There were no computer
points at stake and nothing to lose, but it was her ability to learn
from her tactical mistakes against Coetzer and add variety to her
hardhitting baseline game that impressed most.
"It was unbelievable watching her play today," said Dokic's Perth
teammate Mark Philippoussis. "There was just no stopping her. Some of
the shots she was coming up with, it was just great. Fifteen years old
and full of confidence, it sort of reminds me of when I was 17. It's
fun. She's a great little girl."
Dokic gained experience, which is what she most lacks, and confidence.
She is refreshingly honest, her manner friendly and her gaze clear and
direct. Distinguishing features are the mole on her chin and an
"I played well and usually when I play well, I dominate," she said
after her public comingofage against Sanchez Vicario. "It feels like it
is just another win, but it is a lot more than that. It was a very
important match for me and a very good win."
Off the court, Dokic is an interesting mix of ambition and
selfassurance, naivety and childlike enthusiasm, feistiness and respect
for authority. Much of her guidance comes from Lesley Bowrey, her mentor
of 18 months. Bowrey is part mother figure, part teacher, part coach. A
halfhour interview with the pair is punctuated by animated, affectionate
Bowrey: "I think like every coach, if you travel with a player, it's
more than just tennis. It's teaching ..."
Dokic (interrupting): "She's really strict, though. I'll tell you that.
`Go to bed now. Get up now. Do this, do that'. Y'know, Lesley's more
strict than my mum and dad."
Bowrey: "Oh! Jelena!"
Dokic: "You are."
Bowrey: "Yes, well, it's discipline that gets you through ..."
Dokic: "But I listen to her."
Bowrey: "Yeah, you do."
The "y'know's" that so often punctuate Dokic's speech are reminiscent
of Jennifer Capriati, but she is determined to avoid the pitfalls of the
troubled former teen prodigy. Even so, since arriving with her parents
and younger brother from Belgrade in 1994, progress has been swift.
Indeed, the contrast between consecutive New Years is stark. A year ago,
she was a talented junior whose family was struggling to fund her
interstate travel. Dokic saw in 1999 dancing at the blacktie Hopman Cup
ball and preparing to partner Philippoussis in front of sellout Burswood
crowds. Nike supplies her clothes and Yonex provides racquets. There are
no major sponsorship deals yet, but so much progress that farewelling
1998 was a sad event.
"It's quite unbelievable that in a year I've done what I have," Dokic
says matteroffactly. "It's been a very good year. I didn't really want
it to end. I was just playing the juniors and wanting to do well there.
I didn't really think about how far I wanted to go; didn't even think
about playing Hopman Cup."
ENCOURAGINGLY, Dokic has not restricted her activities to centre court,
where she thrives on the attention. She practised one morning with
Martina Hingis and was a regular courtside fixture. "She's very alive,
she's a good listener and she sees a lot," says Bowrey. "She'll watch
all the matches and she'll learn from them. She's not afraid."
She's not afraid of anything, it seems. Tales of her determination and
work ethic under former state coach Craig Miller at White City, after
catching public transport from her home in Sydney's west, are already
legendary. Yet another case of an immigrant, or child of Europeanborn
parents, making good in a promised land. Think about it: Agassi, Seles,
Philippoussis, Kournikova, Ilie, etc.
"Coming from backgrounds like that, it's always sort of tough for
them," is Dokic's theory. "I don't know, but I just get the feeling
Europeans are prepared to work harder. (They're) more determined and
fight more on the court."
Sure, you may have heard it all before: Australian wondergirl swamped by
wild predictions of her dazzling future; that this one will be
different. But this one just might. Bowrey, an International Hall of
Fame member, is as confident as she can be.
"Jelena wants it very badly. She'll work hard, she's very determined
and she enjoys the competition. You have to really love competing out
there to become a top player and a lot of players have fallen by the
wayside in the past because they really don't enjoy competing. But she
does. She is different. She's singleminded. She knows where she wants to
Another Dokic trait is her great hurry to arrive and the Perth results
have only amplified her impatience to play a full tour schedule, instead
of the four remaining tournaments permitted until her 16th birthday in
April and then another 10 over the following 12 months. The handbrakes
are the WTA age eligibility rules that she boldly labels "ridiculous"
and which she may appeal.
For that reason, and a senior ranking of 341, her itinerary is yet to be
finalised, but will probably retain the junior grand slams for match
practice purposes. Dokic insists she would prefer to lose in seniors
than win in juniors; Bowrey's view is that you should play the junior
slams until you win them and, despite reaching at least the semis in all
four, Dokic was victorious only in New York.
Bowrey: "I think it's important Jelena does play grand slam juniors
until she can get her ranking up there, until ..."
Dokic (interrupting): "But then again ..."
Bowrey: "Wait a minute ... until she can play more tournaments because
with the age eligibility rule, they can't play enough tournaments - 10
is nowhere near enough for her - and I think being at the grand slams is
Dokic: "I don't agree with playing junior grand slams, because if I
play Coetzer and Sanchez Vicario and whoever else in seniors, even if I
don't win those matches, it's still good practice for me and then I'm
moving back to play juniors, not going forward."
Bowrey: "The computer will tell us where she can play. I think that's
something for us to work out when we see where she's at."
LAST year also brought the Fed Cup controversy, when Dokic and Nicole
Pratt were chosen to play singles in the qualifying tie against
Argentina in Canberra. Bowrey, the Fed Cup captain, was accused of a
conflict of interest, but there could be no argument with the result -
a 50 Australian victory.
Dokic, in turn, threatened to stand out of Fed Cup play if the
illfeeling continued. She now seems to have relented. "If I get
selected, I'll play Fed Cup again for Australia, but I've got to get
selected and first I'm just going to worry about how I play this
Already, her Hopman Cup success has altered Dokic's summer plans. She
will now miss Tasmanian Open qualifying, for which she was granted a
wildcard, but this week she will receive another into the main draw at
the Australian Open, guaranteeing still more exposure and experience as
well as prizemoney of at least $10,000.
For Dokic, that is tipped to mean the start of some bigger cheques and,
eventually, the means for some serious spending for a family that
arrived in a new country not so long ago with nothing. So, with
Philippoussis as inspiration, guess what will be at the top of the
teenager's shopping list?
Dokic: "Cars! You know how Mark's got a house in Florida, he's bought
the extra two houses next to him, just so he can park all his cars. He
just signed the papers. Can you believe that? He's got like eight cars -
Jaguars, Porsches, Ferraris ..."
Bowrey: "But you never want to drive!"
Dokic: "Yeah, it's scary driving, but it's good. You know all those
luxury cars, they're awesome. I'll see what there is when I'm 17 ... I
think I'll drive Lesley's Mirage."
Bowrey: "No you won't! Not on your life."
Oh well, so much for that plan, but Dokic has others. Big ones. Wait.
The article quoted from The Age Online Website.