© Ella Ling

Dokic picture

The awkward return of Damir Dokic


Even if Damir Dokic keeps to the agreement and stays at home in the Balkans fermenting his rakija, this is still going to be a comeback summer for him in Australia (he had just made 20,000 litres of the fruity alcoholic drink, and was lying dog-tired on the sofa, when his daughter Jelena walked back into his life a couple of months ago). As Darren Cahill, an Aussie tennis coach, has observed of the reconciliation of the Dokics, “if Jelena’s happy, we’re all happy, but this still feels awkward”. 

Whether Jelena Dokic loses early at Melbourne Park, or goes deep into the draw, you can be sure that her relationship with her father is going to be psycho-analysed on the early-evening news. Just to be sure, Tennis Australia are on Damir-watch. On the Australian tennis scene, Damir, the former wrestler is known for being the most appalling of tennis fathers, a sporting grotesque, a caricature of a tennis ogre. Though he is banned indefinitely from all tournaments on the regular women’s tour, that black-balling does not extend to the slams, and it is unclear as whether he would be allowed into the grounds.

Here is a man who served a prison sentence for threatening to assassinate the Australian ambassador to Serbia with a rocket-launcher, and for having an illegal cache of weapons in his home which included a couple of hand-grenades, 20 bullets, seven hunting rifles and a hand pistol (Damir made his threat because of “a journalistic scam from Australia” – his daughter had alleged in an interview with an Australian magazine that he had physically abused her).
Review Damir’s career, and you will note how he is one French Open misdemeanour short of a grand slam of bad behaviour, having once claimed that the draw was rigged at the Australian Open, stomped on a journalist’s mobile phone at Wimbledon, and caused a scene in the players’ restaurant at the US Open after complaining about the price of salmon. Those in the British Midlands will know him as the man who once lay drunk in the road, having earlier suggested that the members of the Edgbaston Priory Club were “Nazis”. Damir has said that he will stay at home in Serbia during the Australian tennis summer, not least because, according to his daughter, “he can’t watch my matches as gets too stressed”.
Nevertheless, Damir will still be on the news agenda. Every sub-clause, dash and semi-colon of the Dokics’ body-language in their happy families snaps were examined. “So, what to make of her reconciliation with her over-bearing father, Damir? Judging from photographs taken in Serbia for the Herald Sun, there are grounds for immediate concern,” Leo Schlink wrote in the Melbourne tabloid. “The bear-like figure of Damir towers over a submissive Jelena on the sidelines of an indoor court. As usual, Damir seems to be doing the talking. His left arm is plonked on her right shoulder as she peers up at him. We hope Damir is for once true to his word and does not return to the tennis circuit with his daughter.”
Though Craig Tiley, the director of tennis at Tennis Australia, has told The Age in Melbourne that he does not expect Damir Dokic to be at the opening grand slam of the year, he cannot be certain that Jelena’s father will stay away. “I’ve been surprised before, but I would say no. Our relationship is with Jelena and we’re concerned about her health and well-being, and how it helps her perform and be a better tennis player. We’re in the business of performance in tennis, and not necessarily in the business of managing parental relationships, or spouse relationships, except at the point where they impact the performance of the athlete, and then we evaluate our support,” Tiley said.
“All I’ve said publicly and privately to Jelena is, ‘that’s your decision, and we’ll support you, but at any time if a decision you’ve made personally impacts our support of you, or your performance of what you’re doing, we will have to reassess our situation. That would be normal for anyone, because that’s kind of impacting what you’re doing professionally.'”
So, Dokic will continue to be coached by Tennis Australia’s Louise Pleming. And she is not about to ditch her Australian passport – that she has made clear: “Can I please reiterate that this is totally about family. I want to thank the Australian public for their incredible ongoing support and assure everyone that I remain Australian and will continue to play for Australia and to play on the tour as Australian. That is who I am. Please ignore any suggestions otherwise.”
She has entered the pre-Aussie Open tournaments in Brisbane and Sydney, and it is to be hoped that she will have better results this season than she did during the second half of last season when, suffering with a shoulder injury, she lost six of her last seven matches.