Jelena Damira Dokic was born on April 12, 1983, in Osijek, Croatia. She was the first of two children, with her brother Savo coming eight years later. She started playing tennis at the age of 7. Her father Damir coached her at the outset, although Jelena also received instruction from coaches at the Osijek Tennis Club.
The outbreak of war forced the Dokic family to move to Belgrade in 1991. Three years later, the clan left Europe entirely to settle in Australia. Upon her arrival, Jelena persisted with her tennis training, and it wasn’t long before she was causing quite a buzz on the Aussie tennis scene. Recognizing her budding talent, government sports officials began investing thousands of dollars in the young prodigy, placing her in a series of training programs. Their investments paid dividends in 1998, when Jelena won the Jr. U.S. Open.
In spite of her early success, Jelena was off most everyone’s radar screen when she entered pro tournaments the following year. After qualifying for Wimbledon ranked at No. 129, Jelena made history by scoring the tournament’s biggest upset ever. She beat Martina Hingis, the world’s top-ranked player, in the first round, making her the lowest-ranked player to ever defeat the top seed in a Grand Slam tournament. From there, Jelena advanced to the quarterfinals before being eliminated.
As she continued to achieve success in major events, Jelena’s star continued to rise. She reached the semifinals at the following year’s Wimbledon, becoming the first Australian woman to do so since 1980. That same year, Dokic represented her adoptive country in the 2000 Olympics. She reached the semifinals, then lost to Monica Seles in the bronze-medal match.
What came next was a banner year for Jelena. In 2001, she won both her first singles and doubles titles. She shot into the world’s top 10 rankings for the first time. She left 2001 having earned more than $1 million.
Unfortunately, Jelena also made some enemies in 2001. That’s because she announced that she wanted to change her nationality; to turn her back on Australia in favor of her native country. The move shocked and bewildered fans and tennis players in the land down under.
It’s believed that Jelena’s problematic father was a driving force behind that decision. Damir Dokic was alleged to be a constant thorn in the side of Australian tennis officials, having claimed publicly that the 2001 Australian Open draw had been rigged against his daughter. Published reports also purported that Dokic had demanded sexual favors from a female TV reporter in exchange for an interview, and that he had agreed to another interview only if the reporter appeared naked.
The last straw for Jelena, however, is said to have come when her father tried to meddle in her relationship with Brazilian Formula 1 driver Enrique Bernoldi. She is alleged to have responded by banning her parents from the players’ area at tournaments.
Despite all this nonsense, Jelena continued her success on the courts. In 2002, she reached the semifinals or better at 11 tournaments, and ascended to a career-high ranking of No. 4 in August of that year. These accomplishments were somewhat offset by injuries to her right leg, which forced Jelena to withdraw from several tournaments.
Over the next few years, Jelena’s tennis career rolled downhill. In 2003, she won consecutive matches at only six of 30 events. She ended the following season out of the top 100 for the first time in six years. She battled a groin strain throughout 2005, and found herself way down in the rankings at No. 364 in May of that year.