Jelena’s harrowing tale
Published: 13 November 2017
How a superstar tennis career was backdropped by abuse
Jelena details the systematic abuse in a one-on-one interview with Carrie tonight
Image © 2017 The Project
In 1999, Australia cheered as a 16-year-old Jelena Dokic stunned the tennis world by knocking world number one Martina Hingis out of Wimbledon, continuing on to the quarter-finals.
But Jelena’s success, which took her as high as number 4 in the world, was achieved while she was the victim of unrelenting violence from her father and coach, Damir.
Jelena grew up in war-torn Yugoslavia. And at five and a half years of age, Damir first handed her a tennis racket and instructed her to hit ball after ball against a brick wall.
“It was very serious from the first ball I hit,” Jelena says. “I have some great memories of my dad, early on, but literally from the first day I started playing tennis, everything kind of changed.”
The opening scene of Jelena’s new autobiography, Unbreakable, is set at Wimbledon the following year, where Jelena went one better, losing to Lindsay Davenport in a semi-final.
In the wake of that loss, Damir vanished.
“I couldn’t actually find him after the match,” Jelena recalls. “And I got him on the phone after a while, and he just said I was a disgrace and an embarrassment, that I couldn’t come home, and I was 17, and had nowhere to go and tried to stay on site somewhere, try to hide and sleep the night.”
Jelena was found by cleaners, trying to sleep on the couch in the players’ room.
“It was so hard to sit there on the couch thinking, you know, I just reached the semis and I’m 17, and it’s like I’ve done the worst thing in the world to my father.”
The book details how regularly her father beat her with a belt, or his fists. One of the most extreme examples took place in Canada, where Damir beat Jelena to the floor and then kicked her unconscious – continuing the kicks when she came to.
Even with Damir’s public reputation as the ‘coach from Hell’, being banned from multiple tournaments, few could have imagined the extent of the horror taking place behind closed doors. To Jelena, beatings and abuse were all too commonplace.
“You get to a stage after that happening for a couple of years, where it’s just your everyday life, and you accept it as being I’d say normal. That’s what my life was about, and that’s what I had to deal with literally on a day-to-day basis and it was always something. Even at times when it wasn’t physical, which was very rare, it was emotional. There was always something I didn’t do right.”
Tennis Australia have released a statement saying there were some in Australian tennis who suspected what was happening.
“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.
“Some officials even went as far as lodging police complaints, which without cooperation from those directly involved, unfortunately could not be fully investigated.”
As of the 2001 Australian Open, Jelena was no longer Australian, now playing for Yugoslavia. She says that the day Damir forced her to renounce her Australian citizenship was the worst day of her life.
“Yeah all the other physical stuff and emotional stuff that I went through after I left home, I’d take it all again, just if this didn’t happen - that was the worst decision ever.
“My career was funded by Australia and he turned his back to that and made me do the same.”
From that point on, it’s been a slow journey back, through depression and despair, to turn her life around.
Don’t miss Carrie’s emotional one-on-one interview with Jelena, tonight on The Project.