Dokic dismayed as Australia exacts revenge

Yugoslavian prodigy's irascible father passes test of temper in daughter's defeat while an American mother makes a stand
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Unlike the last time Jelena Dokic played Birmingham, the sideshow of her father's antics did not overshadow the main attraction yesterday. That distinction belonged to a 20-year-old Australian, Alicia Molik, who beat her former compatriot 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to deprive the DFS Classic of its No 2 seed in only the second round.

In 1999, Damir Dokic was ejected from the tournament after drunkenly accusing officials of being Nazis who supported the bombing of Yugoslavia. To say he did not go quietly would be an understatement, but the so-called father from hell made a sober return, his heavily bearded face betraying no emotion as his 18-year-old daughter produced a performance from purgatory.

Damir, a former lorry driver who moved his family from Belgrade to Sydney in 1994 and back earlier this year, sucked impassively on his pipe while the world No 16's hopes of an extended warm-up to Wimbledon went up in smoke against the 92nd-ranked player. Flanked by his wife, Liliana, and Jelena's younger brother, Savo, he restrained himself from repeating the tantrums that earned him a six-month ban which expired in March.

In headline terms, "Dokic Dad Causes No Trouble" is on a par with the red-top paper which revealed last Sunday that Michael Barrymore does not have Aids, or the Bedfordshire rag which specialised in negative splash stories like "Luton Not to Sign Toshack". Yet if he had hoped his new leaf might leave Jelena free to concentrate on building on her recent triumph in the Italian Open, he was sadly disappointed.

Dokic's victory in Rome was on clay but, while she is no mean grass-court player, as she has proved at Wimbledon with runs to the quarter and semi-finals respectively in the past two summers, she never mastered Molik's classic serve-and-volley game. Dokic, despite winning the first set comfortably enough, played almost exclusively from the baseline, whereas her opponent was increasingly eager to come into the net, countering the Yugoslav's power with an array of deft strokes.

Centre court at Edgbaston is still green and soft, with the ball bouncing low. Instead of coming to terms with the surface, however, Dokic became exasperated. At 5-3 down in the second set she looked up to Damir for the first time, as if to say 'what do I do?'. He mouthed advice or support but it made no difference as Molik, who combines reach (she is almost 6ft) with no little elegance, drew level.

During the decisive set, young Savo leaned forward in his seat, hands together as if in prayer, while his parents tugged anxiously on their chins. Leading 3-2, Dokic might have been expected to press home her advantage, but it was Molik who summoned something extra, taking four successive games to claim a scalp that was all the more satisfying for the fact the loser recently renounced her Australian nationality.

Dokic and her fellow right-hander, who hails from Melbourne, came through the juniors together and were Olympic team-mates last summer. Molik had reflected before the event that "Jelena had all the help she needed from our governing body, Tennis Australia", adding pointedly: "You'd have to ask her why she did it, preferably without her father in attendance".

A forlorn-looking Dokic ­ without the paternal prompting in Serbo-Croat that has marked some of her press briefings ­ denied any bad blood between herself and Molik. She bemoaned a "tough draw" against a strong server but declined the opportunity to make an excuse of the bye which meant she came into the match cold.

Parent power did rear its head here, though not nearly so embarrassingly for the offspring as when Jim Pierce, Mary's father, famously blurted out: "Kill the bitch!"

During Alexandra Stevenson's 6-3, 6-2 defeat of France's Anne-Gaelle Sidot, the Californian's sportswriting mother, Samantha, marched into the hospitality tent and demanded that the pianist stopped tinkling the ivories. "Alexandra's here to play tennis," she explained afterwards. "You can't do that with that going on."

As the Dokic family circus moved on, the British No 2, Exeter's Lucie Ahl, reached the third round of a WTA tournament for the first time. She did it by overcoming Australia's Rachel McQuillan 1-6, 7-6, 7-6 after trailing 2-5 in the second set, 2-4 in the third and surviving three match points.