Silence Surrounding Abuse of Former Tennis Star Jelena Dokic Follows Patterns Found in Gymnastics

By Jane Voigt

January 25, 2018 — Both Billie Jean King and Jelena Dokic are pioneers. 

King began the Women’s Tennis Association in 1973, has continued to champion human rights, and has earned numerous awards for advocacy, including The Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Dokic, on the other hand, is a woman with less international recognition for services to others although she was heralded as Australia’s greatest tennis hope since Evonne Goolagong, became a semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2000, and rose to number-four in the WTA rankings two years later. Jelena was born in Yugoslavia and emigrated to Australia with her family when she was 11. Her trade was hitting the ball hard and flat while television cameras occasionally panned to her coach and father, Damir Dokic.  

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Dumir Dokic and daughter Jelena in early 2000. 

Commentators took Damir lightly, although he was said to have a temper and perhaps drink too much. His alleged mistreatment of Jelena never was investigated with any real depth, either, although "Tennis Australia officials and police were notified,” news.com.au reported. However since people involved in the allegations would not cooperate, complaints were shoved aside. 

Dokic’s own complaints were met with disbelief, at the time, a similar pattern revealed in the shocking stories of more than 160 women abused by Dr. Larry Nasser, former doctor for the U.S. Olympics and Michigan State University.

“I remember on the tour and I remember things weren’t right,” Billie Jean King said, during an interview at the Australian Open 2018 Inspirational Series yesterday. “But in those days you didn’t understand anything very much. If I was on the tour now and Jelena was going through [what she was], I would have known something was up.”

The truth about Dokic’s life and her father’s physical and mental abuses came into sharp focus after the release of her autobiography, “Unbreakable,” in November. In it she details the “physical beatings, whippings, and verbal abuse,” myGC.com.au reported, leveled by Dumir. Dokic writes that the trauma drove her to consider suicide, after years of punishment where he called her a whore, prostitute and bitch. 

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One passage tells how Dumir forced Jelena to sleep in the player’s lounge at Wimbledon because he wouldn’t let her return to the hotel where her entire family was staying. “She had brought shame on him for not winning her semi-final against Lindsay Davenport.” Dokic was 17 and the time. “A cleaner found her asleep curled up in a small ball on a couch."

Apologies from Tennis Australia and people familiar with Dokic’s struggles have helped smooth the troubled waters. 

“I never really knew going into this how big it would be, how much attention my story would get, and how much support I would get,” Dokic said at the series attended by King yesterday. “I never went into it thinking about myself or doing it for myself. It was more the fact that I knew this could help people. At the end of my book I write that if it helps one person, it’s mission [has been] accomplished. And I think it’s already done so much more than that, and that’s what’s been so great about this.”

The belt is brown, its leather thick and hard, it feels as sharp as a knife when it’s whipped against my skin, Dokic wrote in “Unbreakable."

Like other women in sports who have endured abuse at the hand of powerful people, a weight has lifted from Dokic’s shoulders. 

“The day the book came out was, to me, the greatest day of my life. This huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and it felt incredibly good. I wish I could have done it earlier, but I just wasn’t ready.”

Dokic believes that other women in tennis have also suffered abuses.

“Look, I’m sure there is because quite a few people didn’t know about mine, either. So I’m sure there is. But this is not only about tennis. It’s not only about sport. It’s about everyday life because it is happening.”

Although her advocacy for women like herself is in its nascence, she has been properly recognized for the courage she demonstrated in writing the book. 

“Hopefully having my own children one day I want to break the cycle in my family and just give them an example and show them a different way.”

Jelena Dokic is not in contact with her father. He has never been charged with any crimes, either. According to The Daily Telegraph, “Tennis tyrant Damir Dokic is running out of money and is selling the mansion he bought with daughter Jelena’s money in rural Serbia. One person told the publication they had been looking for him to pay a fuel bill."

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013