“Whatever happened to that player?” is a common question when fans realise a former top name has faded into the background– or perhaps even disappeared from the tour.
For those wondering about Jelena Dokic, who competed only sporadically in the years that should have been the prime of her career, the question had unimaginable significance.
Tennis was far from a priority as the former world No.4 was gripped by a depression so severe she contemplated suicide.
Injuries had played a part but more impactful was the trauma caused by years of physical and mental abuse from her infamous father, Damir, before she finally distanced herself at age 19.
Dokic, now 34, has revealed the extent of the relentless abuse in her autobiography Unbreakable, co-authored with Jessica Halloran and published by Penguin Random House Australia.
Despite early heights that included a rise to become world No.1 junior in 1998, winning Australia’s first-ever Hopman Cup title with Mark Philippoussis at age 16 in 1999 and her stunning upset of world No.1 Martina Hingis en route to the Wimbledon quarterfinals the same year, Dokic was regularly beaten by a father who always demanded more.
It followed horrendous violence throughout Dokic’s childhood, which was already impacted by the family’s arrival in Australia as refugees escaping civil war in their native Serbia.
“He divides up his abuse of me,” she writes. “He will emotionally abuse me, then whip me. I steel myself through the pain. He will stop but then will verbally berate me for ages. ‘Jelena, you are hopeless’ is the message’.”
Dokic also opens up about her deep humiliation at Damir’s many public controversies, which ranged from his rants at tennis officialdom to drunken-fuelled behaviour at Wimbledon and the US Open, leading to an eventual six-month ban from the WTA Tour.
The then 17-year-old’s best-ever Grand Slam result, as a semifinalist at Wimbledon, also ended in heartbreak when her father abandoned her at the All England Club after she lost to Lindsay Davenport.
While that episode is described as “the hardest moment for me” Dokic also expresses her tremendous regret at Damir’s decision that forced her to switch nationalities from Australia to Yugoslavia in 2001.
Several years later, Jelena returned to represent Australia, her most heartwarming Grand Slam result achieved when she reached the Australian Open quarterfinals in 2009 as the recipient of a wildcard she’d earned with victory at the pre-tournament play-off.
The emotional return forms a poignant chapter of Dokic’s autobiography, which also details her early years in Serbia, the family’s arrival in Australia and the challenges of Jelena’s post-playing career, which ended prematurely due to wrist and shoulder injuries.
Dokic contested her last match on the WTA Tour at Charleston in 2012 and has since dabbled in coaching and several media roles, including as a writer and commentator.
Unbreakable, by Jelena Dokic with Jessica Halloran, is published by Penguin Random House Australia.
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