Monday, March 7, 2011

Jelena Dokic is back and, duh…WINNING!!!!

OK I couldn’t resist. Maybe it’s because today’s Charlie Sheen reminds me so much of Dokic’s dad back in the day when his crazy and substance use were routinely on public display. I’m not saying that Papa Dokic was necessarily a drug-addicted manic-depressive. But he was known for his episodes of public intoxication and crazy talk. And like Sheen, he seemed to be a violent man, prone to outbursts and threats, and also faced allegations of being a perpetrator of physical abuse against women (in Damir Dokic’s case, his daughter).

Happily for Jelena, those days seem to be well in the past. But as Sheen’s children will one day have to face, there is really no getting away from a crazy parent. You’re forever going to have to deal with his antics. You will forever be referred to as the child of a lunatic. And some will even look closely to see if the gene for crazy got transferred to you. My heart bleeds for the children of these out-of-control men who cannot see beyond their own violent delusional narcissism.

So it is wonderful, and deserving of celebration, that Jelena has returned to her winning ways. To be honest, it took a long damn time. In 2009 she herself announced that if she did not get a breakthrough she was going to give up on tennis. At that point she had not won a tournament since 2002 in Birmingham. It would take almost two more years of persistence before the tide turned.

After 1999, when Dokic famously spanked a sulking Hingis out of Wimbledon, her life became a messy, public roller-coaster ride. One minute she was ending the relationship with her father. The next minute she had moved back to Belgrade to live with him. Then for a few months there she literally went missing and turned up in Australia.

Jelena also seemed to have a hard time figuring out which country she would call home. One minute she was playing tennis for Australia. The next she was joining her father in allegations that the Australian Open draw was rigged and that she was representing Serbia for Fed Cup. Next minute she was proposing a truce with Tennis Australia all over again. It was an exhausting roller-coaster. As exhausting as it was for her fans to watch, no doubt it was ten times more draining for her to live it.

And through it all, her father, Damir Dokic, kept bringing the crazy. He was banned from WTA events for six months after several contretemps with officials and journalists. In 2009, his 15-month sentence for threatening the Australian ambassador with a hand grenade was upheld in court. His extreme political views were cited as part of the reason why his daughter found herself physically accosted and attacked by a group of Croatian fans in 2006.

In face of adversity, some people become victims and succumb to pressure. Others remain resilient and determined to survive. It’s been really difficult trying to gauge which of these labels apply to Dokic.

It’s taken a lot of years and apparently the right kind of coaching and loving from the Bikic brothers for her to re-build her life and her career. Along the way she had to overcome severe depression, weight gain, a complete loss of confidence in herself, injury after injury, and public disregard for many of her own actions and statements. She was forced to grow up and sometimes even eat some humble pie.

And finally it all seems to have paid off. The win in Malaysia was significant in many ways. For a start, she spanked the top seed, Francesca Schiavone, in the opening round in three exciting sets. Granted Schiavone fell and injured herself, but it was still a significant win. But to be honest, I kind of expected Jelena to implode after that because she seemed so happy about that victory that I wondered if she could sustain the hunger to the end.

When she beat Michaella Krajicek in straight sets in the semifinals, I decided that I liked her chances in the finals against Lucie Safarova. I knew that she had beaten Safarova just two weeks ago at the Open Gaz de France. That wasn’t an easy win for Dokic. She had to do it in three sets. But because she did it, I felt confident that she could do it again.

And she did. She saved match points to close out Safarova in the second set tie-break. And then she claimed victory in the third with her powerful baseline game, and serving an incredible 13 aces.

In the press interview afterward Jelena responded to the concern over whether she still has the hunger: “I just kept pushing and pulling myself up to win the match. I’m very happy to win the tournament. After winning one, your appetite gets bigger and it will be the key to maintaining the momentum.” Spoken like a woman who seems to have learned a thing or two along the way.