Brand new chapter for same old Jelena
Jelena Dokic's journey from a torrid past and severe depression to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open is another amazing chapter in her life and one of the most remarkable stories in recent memory.
MELBOURNE -- The popular soap operas "Neighbours" and "Home and Away" normally dominate early-evening programming Down Under. But for the past week, they have been completely overshadowed by that other great Australian melodrama: Jelena Dokic.The 25-year-old, born-again Australian is currently acting out the most amazing chapter of her turbulent career, reaching the Australian Open quarterfinals as a wild card ranked No. 187. She even earned her spot in the draw the hard way, playing six matches in seven days to win Tennis Australia's wild-card playoffs in December. Dokic next faces formidable No. 3 seed Dinara Safina, and whatever happens in that match, her run will end up being one of the most remarkable in recent tennis history. The former No. 4 has not played regularly on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour since 2005 and had not won a Grand Slam match since 2003. But if you've got it, you've always got it. That's according to Serena Williams, who knows a thing or two about coming from nowhere to recapture past glories -- she won the Australian Open in 2007 ranked No. 81 in the world. "Hopefully, she can be motivated by what I did," said Williams. "I was noticing when she was playing, looks like the same Jelena. That's really good to see, that she didn't lose any of her game or her fighting spirit. It's awesome." On court, Dokic's journey this past week has been eventful. She has gone three sets in each of her four matches at Melbourne so far, defeating three seeded players. Off the court, it has been emotional. She has spoken openly about her struggles to get her life and career back on track after deciding to break away from the influence of her notorious father, Damir. "I battled severe depression for about two years," she said after her opening win. "Didn't play for months at a time, was really seriously thinking about not playing. "It was a tough time in my life. I had a lot to go through, a lot of family issues. It's really a miracle for me." The nightmare has now turned into a fairy-tale, and within the space of a week, she has turned around both her career and her relationship with the Australian public.
Except for the occasional tabloid story, she disappeared from sight until the end of 2007, when she again showed up to contest the wild-card playoffs. After being forced to pull out of the playoffs with injury, Dokic lost in Australian Open qualifying and criticized Tennis Australia officials for not giving her a wild card.But she had positive results in minor league events the rest of the year and signaled her progress with her success in the wild-card playoffs in December. Her return to the fold has been helped by the private and public apologies, and the pride with which she now speaks of playing for Australia. "I will regret the decision that I made [to leave]. I can say that I made it under the influence of my dad, but I will regret leaving for the rest of my life," she said. "I'm trying my best. I'm fighting and playing for this country. I'm proud to play for this country again." Winning has helped the reconciliation, too. Apart from Sam Stosur and Casey Dellacqua, this tennis-mad nation has only a limited presence on the women's tour. Dokic's goal of returning to the top 50 and perhaps top 20 sounded ambitious just a couple of weeks ago, but now seems distinctly possible if she can maintain something resembling her current form. That will not be easy, of course, because it involves playing well week after week in conditions far removed from the magical atmosphere of her recent night matches in Rod Laver Arena.
Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.
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2009 AUSTRALIAN OPEN
Women's singles: Serena Williams, United States
Rafael Nadal, Spain
Men's doubles: Bob and Mike Bryan, United States
Women's doubles: Serena and Venus Williams, United States
Mixed doubles: Sania Mirza and Mahesh Bhupathi, India
Official scoreboard: Scores
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