'Tennis father from hell' arrested over rocket launcher threats

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The Independent Online

Damir Dokic, often referred to as the "tennis father from hell", has been out of the public gaze for a while. But given his track record, it was perhaps to be expected that when he burst back into view, it would be with the ferocity of... well, a rocket launcher.

Mr Dokic, father of Jelena, once ranked fourth in the world, was arrested yesterday in Serbia after threatening to fire a rocket at the car of the Australian ambassador, Clare Bergin. The reason? An interview his estranged daughter gave to an Australian magazine, claiming her father regularly beat her during tennis competitions.

Jelena, whose family fled Yugoslavia and settled in Australia in 1994, was hailed as a precocious talent when, at 16, she beat the world No 1, Martina Hingis, at Wimbledon in 1999. Her tennis fortunes flourished, but her success was always overshadowed by the brooding figure of Mr Dokic, who accompanied her everywhere, and by rumours that he mistreated her.

The volatile Mr Dokic, who was ejected from a string of tournaments at the height of his daughter's career, did not deny her allegations. He told the Serbian daily Blic: "There was no child that was not beaten by parents – the same with Jelena." Nonetheless, he was enraged by his daughter's interview. He told Blic he had an "arsenal of weapons" in his house and was serious about his threat to kill the ambassador.

This was not bluster, as it turned out. When police raided Mr Dokic's home in Vrdnik, north of Belgrade, yesterday, they seized seven hunting rifles and a Beretta handgun, for which he had permits, as well as two illegal bombs and a cache of .357-calibre bullets. He has been charged with threatening to harm Ms Bergin and with possession of illegal firearms and explosives.

During Jelena's heyday, Mr Dokic, a lorry driver, became notorious for drunken and abusive behaviour. Ejected from a tournament in Birmingham in 1999 after calling tennis officials Nazis, he was subsequently arrested for lying in the road and jumping on a car bonnet. In 2000 he was thrown out of Wimbledon for stamping on a journalist's phone, and was banned from the women's tour for six months after an argument about the price of fish at the US Open. In 2001 Mr Dokic took his family back to Serbia. Estranged from her father since 2002, Jelena returned to Australia alone last year and is trying to rebuild her career.

She told Sport & Style magazine: "We can't pick who our parents are and what happens. When you have a situation like mine, you just have to deal with it." She added: "When you go through stuff like that, playing a tennis match is easy."

Rumours of physical abuse have long dogged the family. A coach said he heard Jelena being slapped around in a hotel room. A fellow player saw bruises.

Mr Dokic appears unrepentant. In a recent interview with Serbian television, he declared that talented children "should never be left alone. They should always be forced, I think, even pushed into it." Asked how far they should be pushed, he replied: "There are no limits."