2007 I.A.: Scratching an Itch
(A "2007 Intriguing Question" update)
Much like the migration of a flock of birds prior to the onset of winter, the swallows have returned to Capistrano... err, I mean Jelena Dokic is back in the news.
Yep, it's true. Dokic is back in Melbourne, saying all the right things about being "committed" to living and breathing tennis again in her latest attempt to make a comeback at age 24.
"I have to totally live tennis now from 6 o'clock in the morning to 10 o'clock at night then sleep, wake up and start all over again," Dokic said in a interview posted on the Tennis Australia website.
Let's start the queue now for the "believe it when I see it" crowd.
Tennis Australia (TA) is taking a flier on the Yugoslavian-born Aussie-turned-Serb-turned-Aussie, but not committing wholeheartedly (i.e. financially, and as far as gift wrapping a wild card into the Australian Open goes) unless Dokic does the same first, as per the direction of TA Director of Player Development Craig Tiley. "She's got to earn her stripes," he said. But the question remains whether or not she can change them.
There's reason to be hopeful for the one-time world-#4 and grand slam semifinalist, but it's even more reasonable to be skeptical. After all, Dokic's year-end ranking graph would appear to be the epitome of that of a "flash in the pan." How could it not with numbers like these?:
Dokic hasn't been ranked in the Top 10 since May 2003, won a tour event since June '02, been in a WTA singles final since Zurich exactly four years ago, or won a grand slam match since the '03 U.S. Open. In fact, she hasn't played a tour level main draw match of any kind since the 1st Round of the '06 Australian Open, and was last seen in March of this year losing in the opening round of a $10K ITF event in Rome.
Will Dokic take advantage of the opportunity to train within the TA environment, or will THIS return "home" end up being another self-serving cameo forgotten by February, as the last trip turned out to be? Remember, the most recent time Dokic managed to crawl (all right, fly) back Down Under in such grasping-at-straws straits was two years ago. She won an internal playoff tournament to claim one of the home wild cards into the Australian Open draw, and actually held two match points in a 1st Round main draw encounter with Virginie Razzano. But two match points and a premature celebration before a late out call later, Dokic's concentration (and will) was broken in a flash. Her hoped-for resurgence stalled, and she's spent most of the last two years either sitting out by choice or because of injury, or seemingly sabotaging her own surface efforts to put together another comeback attempt.
What appeared to be a petulant, out-of-touch back-turning incident a year ago that led to her exit from the Pilic Academy looked as if it would be the moment where a once-promising career effectively reached the end of the line. That still might turn out to be the case, but Dokic's catty career apparently hasn't used up its reserve of nine lives. Not yet.
Of course, if Australia were Russia, Dokic might still be literally adrift, even if she may no longer be fundamentally so. The lack of a "sure-thing" junior Aussie star, Alicia Molik's health issues of a while back, and Samantha Stosur's injury-stunted '07 campaign means Dokic still might have as much or more potential as any woman currently playing under an Australian flag. That Dokic and TA might still have a future together probably says as much about Australia's women's tennis fortunes as Dokic's tantalizing past and lost luster. But, as 2008 beckons, what happens this time will hinge on how much Dokic really HAS grown up. How she reacts to the probable lack of immediate success and potentially stinging setbacks will tell the tale of whether we're about to witness a very nice story, or the epilogue to a very sad one.
"I'm under no illusions. This is going to be very difficult," she said. "I have to keep reminding myself that I am starting from scratch."
That's all fine and good, but such sentiments have emanated from Dokic before. But even though it'd by easy to dismiss her "comeback" as something that might likely fall short of even qualifying as a carnival sideshow, and instead could ultimately go down as pitiable attempt to recapture a lost career that never burned as brightly as it could have and then was extinguished far too early, the excitement that an in-form Dokic once brought to the tour at least makes one keep tabs on her out of the corner of your eye. Even if you'd never be caught dead allowing yourself to be naive enough to don a pair of rose-colored glasses through which to view this latest Jelena news cycle.
Hope for the re-igniting of Dokic's tennis flame of a career springs eternal at least once a year, and that time is upon us. So, all aboard for one more ride... but be forewarned, as the potentially thrilling experience could be halted at any time at the discretion (or disinterest) of the operator.
Looks like we're in Oz again, Toto. And I think this is our last chance... again.