the legend

joyful rogger fedder

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dokic feels heat on return

Photo Titled Jelena Dokic
Jelena Dokic
Jelena Dokic’s return to Wimbledon after five years away ended unhappily today. A solid start promised much for the former SW19 semi-finalist and one-time world number four, but she haemorrhaged confidence after winning the first set and somehow the match against qualifier Tatjana Malek slipped through her grasp. Malek won 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.

This was a curious tussle. In the first set Dokic seemed to be winning at a stroll, yet things were more complicated than the scoreline betrayed.

There were moments when Dokic clearly relished the mental chess match and the process of out-thinking her opponent. But Dokic has one of those fragile faces whose expression cannot help but betray her every thought, and there was always the danger that her nerves might unexpectedly trip her up.

Yet her strokeplay was vastly superior, and she emphasised it by emitting on every stroke the same exhalation sound that a boxer makes when he lands a punch – definitely not a grunt, more like a “whoosh”. She brought up the break point that counted by out-thinking the 21-year-old German at the net for 3-1, and that game sealed the set.

Yet in the second set Dokic’s nerves took over, with a double fault handing Malek an early break for 1-2. Her shot selection was going awry, with opportunities for clear winners missed. It was all she could do not to surrender another break.

She hung on, and forced enough errors from Malek that she levelled at 4-4. But two games later two more double faults helped Malek to a break to love, and she served out the set, whereupon Dokic requested the medical trainer. A doctor also came to the court. No physical treatment ensued, and after Dokic had received a tablet and some oral gel, the match resumed.

This match, out on Court 7, had a very different feel to the most famous day of Dokic’s career, 10 years ago. In the daunting arena of what was then the brand new No.1 Court, 16-year-old Dokic created one of the biggest shocks of all time by thrashing defending champion Martina Hingis 6-2, 6-0 in the first round.

Dokic was a qualifier ranked 129 in the world, and the victory made her the lowest ranked player to beat a number one seed at a Grand Slam in the Open era. It seemed then that Dokic would spearhead the next generation of champions.

But although she rose to number four by 2002, it came at a huge price. Her form and reputation were compromised by her overbearing father, Damir. She switched more than once between Yugoslavian and Australian nationality, alienating support Down Under, while her father became so disruptive a presence on the Tour that he was eventually banned, and is now imprisoned.

Dokic split from him but at 22 her game disintegrated, and she suffered years of depression before embracing the Australian flag again and making a thrilling return to this year’s Australian Open. Ranked just 187, she put together a hugely emotional run to the quarter-finals, roared on by a home crowd who forgave her everything for her valour.

At Roland Garros last month she was a set and a break up against the number four seed Elena Dementieva before a back injury forced her withdrawal.

Happily there was no sign of that today, although she clearly lacked conditioning. Her main battle was the mental one and she surrendered serve immediately at the start of the third set. From somewhere she dredged up the will to break back at once, but then another double fault helped Malek to another break.

Exactly the same error gave Malek a 5-2 lead and from there there would be no return for Dokic.

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