Tennis Wimbledon: Dokic's innocence survives

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The Independent Online
THERE HAD to be a reaction and there was. Jelena Dokic, the serious- faced assassin who did for the No 1 seed Martina Hingis on Tuesday, could not expect to scale the same heights two days later and she was right. People on Court 13 swore she made a mistake in her first set yesterday. Quite where passed a lot of us by, because for 23 minutes the 16-year- old Australian played a brand of tennis that was not normal. Brilliant, incandescent, you supply the adjective, she was it.

Poor Katarina Studenikova must have wondered what she had wandered into. In theory, at 114 in the world, she was ranked 15 places ahead of the prodigy, and in theory she was in England. Except Court 13 had been annexed by Australia and whatever Dokic is she certainly was not inferior.

Every potentially great player has a trick and Dokic's is her drop-shot, a double-handed piece of conjuring from the baseline that looks like it is going to be rocket propelled and, instead, dribbles over the net. Studenikova was left like seaweed discarded by the tide. And it was a very high tide. Slovakia's Studenikova had her chances in every game in the first set except the last, but before she knew it she was was 6-0 down and Dokic had, including her match with Hingis, rattled off 16 superlative games in a row.

Even children with no fear cannot compete at this level forever and just when it appeared Dokic could do no wrong she did. "It was a bit scary out there," she said. "I was playing well and then my game just went a bit and so did my concentration. She picked up her game and went for her shots."

Studenikova was losing more points on her first serve than her second, and when it dawned on her that pace was like pouring four star on to a bonfire, she took her foot off the accelerator and allowed Dokic to generate her own power. Suddenly the inexperienced child playing only her second Grand Slam singles match on grass was laid bare. Dokic was 4-2 down in the third set, defeat was staring her in the face, but she refused to look. "Even though I lost the second set and was down in the third I sort of still felt confident," Dokic said. "You always try to think positive and I knew I could come back if I got myself together."

Whether she did or Studenikova fell apart is a moot point because an extraordinary pattern of play saw five serves dropped before Dokic clung on to her's to win 6-0, 4-6, 8-6. "Maybe there was a little bit more pressure because people were expecting me to win," Dokic said. "I try not to look at it that way. I just try to play."

A day after Jennifer Capriati's podgy reincarnation had been testimony to the cruelty of a sport that devours prodigies, her words had an innocence that was both warming and worrying. Sadly, she will learn that no one just plays.