Ex-tennis star Jelena Dokic: Father beat and spit at her
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SYDNEY — Former tennis star Jelena Dokic says from a young age her father regularly beat and kicked her. He would pull her hair, spit in her face and belittle her with vile insults.
Dokic, once ranked No. 4 in the world and a Wimbledon semifinalist, writes of her ordeal with Damir Dokic, also her coach, in an autobiography to be released this week.
“He beat me really badly,” Dokic, now 34, told Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph. “It basically started Day One of me playing tennis. It continued on from there. It spiraled out of control.”
After losing to Lindsay Davenport in the Wimbledon semifinals in 2000 at age 17, Dokic said her father refused to acknowledge her following the match and when she finally reached him on the telephone. He told her not to return to the hotel where the family was staying. She was so distressed she attempted to sleep in the players’ area at Wimbledon before officials contacted her agents and arranged for her stay with them.
Damir Dokic is living in Serbia and had no comment for Australian media.
Excerpts from the book and a video interview published in Australian newspapers generated wide debate about how the situation was allowed to continue throughout Dokic’s teenage years.
Tennis Australia praised Dokic’s courage in exposing the abuse. The governing body responded to media questions about why it didn’t intervene by saying an official had taken the matter to the authorities.
“There were many in tennis at the time who were concerned for Jelena’s welfare, and many who tried to assist with what was a difficult family situation,” Tennis Australia said in a statement. “Some officials even went as far as lodging police complaints, which without cooperation from those directly involved, unfortunately could not be fully investigated.”
Tennis Australia said over the past 10 years the sport has strengthened steps to protect young players.
At the time Dokic was playing at her peak the WTA had a rule banning disruptive family members or coaches from attending tournaments.
Damir Dokic was eventually banned indefinitely from all WTA Tour events after a series of public indiscretions, including accusing Australian Open organizers of fixing the 2001 tournament draw. He also spent time in jail for threatening the life of the Australian ambassador to Belgrade and illegally possessing weapons.
He was suspended at times from other tournaments. Among them was the U.S. Open, where he was banned in 2000 for abusing staff over the price of a salmon lunch, and at Wimbledon, where he smashed a journalist’s phone.
Jelena Dokic started playing tennis at 8 years old. Her family emigrated in 1994 from Europe to Australia, where Jelena trained in Sydney under her father. In 1998, she won the U.S. Open junior title and played Fed Cup for Australia. In 1989, she upset Martina Hingis in the opening round of Wimbledon, becoming the lowest-ranked player in the Open era to beat a top seed at a Grand Slam.
She switched allegiances at her father’s insistence to represent Serbia in 2001, following allegations by her father that the draw for the 2001 Australian Open was rigged against her. But she returned to represent Australia from 2006.
After reaching a No. 4 ranking in 2002, Dokic’s ranking slipped into the 600s as she struggled with injuries and depression. But in 2009, she made a surprising run to the Australian Open quarterfinals as a wild card and said she’d been estranged from her father for several years. She retired in 2012 with five titles in the top tier of women’s tennis, but having never surpassed her 2000 success in a major.
Dokic has been quoted as saying that her father’s emotional abuse was more damaging than the physical violence.
“That was the one what hurt me the most,” she said. “When you are 11, 12 years old and hear all those nasty things … that was more difficult for me.”