The Age
A day in the troubled life of Jelena


Friday 21 January 2000

Show court three at Melbourne Park is something of a sanctuary. Close enough to the tram line for the announcement for new arrivals to the Australian Open to be audible. The scoreboard does not show progress results from other courts. It is hard to know what else is going on. For just under an hour yesterday it was the perfect place for Jelena Dokic.

On the court, watched by about 3000 spectators and two-dozen photographers and cameramen, she could do what she does best: play tennis. Partnered by Jennifer Capriati, another young woman who knows a little about torment and media attention, she could hit balls and have some fun. For as long as the match lasted, nobody would question or pursue her.

The match, an unexciting first-round women's doubles contest, was over quickly. It took just 43 minutes for Dokic and Capriati, who in different years have been teen sensations at Wimbledon, to defeat an overawed Spanish pair.

Then Dokic stayed on court a little while to sign autographs.

Children hung over the railing, thrusting pieces of paper and programs and tennis balls in her direction. "Jelena," they cried, "Over here, Jelena." After all the headlines and TV footage and reports that have dogged her this week - a spectator in the stands read a story with the headline "The Joke is on Jelena" - the kids still love her.

She obliged them for a while and then left, which was a shame. Because soon afterwards she made life difficult for herself. Again. In a packed interview room she was the solo star of a one-act show that was equal parts tragedy and farce.

She sat alone, a young girl in a grey T-shirt and shorts. A girl who was a media sweetheart at last year's Australian Open and is now a media target. She sat alone at a table behind a microphone, her fingers working at her player's pass and strap as if they were worry-beads. Then Jelena Dokic spoke, and immediately made things worse.

The 16-year-old was making her first public comments since the public relations disaster that was her delayed, post-match press conference following her first-round defeat at the Open on Monday; her first public comments since a report in the Herald Sun newspaper on Wednesday suggested she believed there was a conspiracy against her; her first comments since other players said she was making a laughing-stock of herself.

Unlike Monday, she did not enter the interview room with a statement scribbled on a piece of paper. This was good. But then, before a question was asked, she began a rambling soliloquy. This was very bad. In a quavering voice she entirely refuted Wednesday's story. Suffice to say she referred, erroneously to the Sun Herald.

She also felt her management company and the women's tour officials hadn't supported her.

She didn't regret comments she had made earlier in the week. She wasn't worried by how her father, Damir, had been portrayed, or the incident involving him and a cameraman on Wednesday.

She might have used the occasion to get out of the hole she had helped dig for herself. Some expressions of regret, perhaps, or even an appeal for allowance to be made for her youth might have swung things back her way. But no. She had the jut-jawed defiance she sometimes shows at break-point down on court.

It was awful to watch and hear.

In vain she pleaded "tennis questions only".

This was a young girl trying to clarify comments she had made, or had been attributed to her, and just making things worse. A teenager having to talk about management companies; having to affirm that she loved her dad; saying that, heaven knows how, she still enjoys professional tennis.

The one-act drama lasted 13 minutes. Almost one-third as long as her match on court three. An official opened the door for her. It seemed appropriate that, as Jelena Dokic vanished, the question that hung in the air behind her concerned legal action.


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