Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Oz 3- Overcoming Down Under

Could it be? In Melbourne... a Phoenix may be rising from her own ashes.

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25-year old Jelena Dokic shakes her head at the minor injuries that prevent some players from taking the court, and who can blame her? After traveling through a familial meat grinder since she first emerged as a young star in the late 1990's, she's gone from Wimbledon conqueror of world #1 Martina Hingis, grand slam semifinalist and Top 5 player to estranged daughter, depression sufferer and virtual tennis afterthought who's been battling through a Sisyphean half-decade ordeal in which she's attempted a multiple-times-failed, nearly-abandoned-but-could-never-quite-bring-herself-to-give-up comeback try that may have finally reached dry land in Melbourne.

After Night 3 of the 2009 Australian Open, Dokic is on top of her small world once again after providing yet another layer of foundation to her return by knocking off #17-seed Anna Chakvetadze 6-4/6-7/6-3, reaching her first slam 3rd Round since doing so at Wimbledon in 2003.

1999 - 3rd Round (#2 Martina Hingis)
2000 - 1st Round (Rita Kuti Kis)
2001 - 1st Round (#2 Lindsay Davenport)
2002-05 DID NOT PLAY
2006 - 1st Round (Virginie Razzano)
2008 - Qual. Round 2 (#6 Tamarine Tanasugarn)
2009 - ???

1997 - NR
1998 - #341
1999 - #43
2000 - #26
2001 - #8
2002 - #9
2003 - #15
2004 - #125
2005 - #351
2006 - #621
2007 - NR
2008 - #178
2009 - (currently #187)

After years of denying a problem, Dokic now tearfully owns up to the misery she's faced down and (most of) the mistakes she's made through the years. Having made it through a dense fog that no player -- or daughter) -- should be forced to deal with, she's grateful to find herself under clearer, torment-free skies. Damir is old news now, but the ringer he put her through still lingers. Maybe it's driving her, too, in a way. Having finally raised her ranking back into the Top 200, followed the path laid out for her by Tennis Australia, and now rediscovered at least a tiny bit of her old success she's got the chance to draw strength from what's she's survived as well as view old once-crossed barriers in a new adult light... an appreciative one.

Dokic in her younger days

At times during her win over Chakvetadze, which turned shaky after she lost a 4-1 2nd set lead and had to go three to emerge with the victory (holding off another potential surge by her opponent in the late stages of the deciding set), Dokic brought back a few wonderful memories of the ferocious teenager who was as exciting as any player on tour when she was on her game. The groundstrokes were pulverizing, while the gritty glances and clenched fists were along for the ride once more.

Maybe for the first time in ages, it might be safe to have some faith in Dokic again. Hopefully, that's the case.

But she need only to look at Chakvetadze to see how quickly things can change. Not that long ago, SHE was also a Top 5 player who, while sometimes hindered by nerves, was enough of a fighter to manage to go 7-0 in the first seven tour finals in which she appeared. But the trauma of a December '07 home invasion nightmare eventually caught up with her as 2008 went along, and now one wonders if she'll ever fully recover enough to become as mentally strong as she'll need to be even to just reclaim her former Top 10 spot. Monica Seles was never quite the same after Hamburg '93, and what happened in Moscow could haunt the Russian for quite a long time, as well. Chakvetadze's obvious out-of-sight crying spell (off court, in between the 1st and 2nd sets) and back-to-back double faults to end the match (numbers 15 and 16 on the night) don't bode well... and it's only January.

This could be a very long season for Chakvetadze. But, then again, look where Dokic finds herself now.

With a little wind at her back, the Aussie will next see #11-seed Caroline Wozniacki across the net in the 3rd Round. Dokic will be the underdog. But she's used to that by now. She's been living the life of an underdog for years, but on Day 5 she'll have the Australian crowd (and the Brothers Bikic, once seen by Dokic fans as interlopers, but maybe now viewed as her lifeline to the human race in her times of trouble) on her side, too.

Not a bad deal, really.

At times in her troubled past, Dokic's words and actions have made her appear to be unworthy of such support. But a damaged psyche can explain a multitude of ills, and Dokic might be a prime example of such. She learned from the environment in which she was raised, and that she's shown such an inability to not totally give up hope is a good sign. A decade has passed since she burst on to the scene with great force, but only now might we be getting our first glimpses of the real Jelena Dokic, the woman, rather than the scared daughter trying in vain to keep her family from breaking apart.

It's just nice to see her back in the spotlight, adrift no longer and (fingers crossed) having emerged better from it all on "the other side."

=DAY 3 NOTES= one Jelena goes, so goes the other. At least as far as reaching the final 32 is concerned.

Top-seeded Jelena Jankovic, who maybe should be referred to as the Green Machine this year in Melbourne since she strikes quite an image in that bright green dress she's wearing at this tournament, made it past Kirsten Flipkens in two tight sets, 6-4/7-5. But Queen Chaos didn't exactly silence any critics with her performance. At times, she showed little evidence of any "version 2.0" in her game, as her serve lacked punch and she seemed to be reverting to old habits.

But a win is a win.

Meanwhile, Flipkens played well, for the first time in quite a while bringing back memories of the player on the cusp of being a consistent Top 100 player a few years ago. While ESPN2's Mary Carillo and Mary Joe Fernandez acted as if Flipkens was some new player on the scene (she's only a year younger than JJ), she was actually seen as a promising up-and-comer not that long ago. She climbed into the Top 100 back in '06, then suffered through a pretty miserable 2007 season that saw her fall into the #300's. She's since climbed the ladder back to relevance, mostly by way of the ITF circuit, and once again finds herself in the same low #100's area of the rankings that she did three seasons ago.

...Dokic's fellow Top 5er back in 2003 is still around in the 3rd Round, as well. Daniela Hantuchova won yet another three-setter, this time over Mathilde Johansson. In fact, so far, nearly all the "question mark players" heading into this Oz have made out pretty well, from Dokic and Hantuchova to Amelie Mauresmo, Sesil Karatantcheva, Lucie Safarova and the Bondarenkos (at least in singles... cough, cough... more on them as a team in a moment).

...following in Dominika Cibulkova's footsteps from Day 2, Vera Zvonareva double-bageled Edina Gallovits in :46 on Day 3.

...the Early-Round Awards arrive tomorrow, and a few more Oz winners have closed the door on the competition. Even with a few other players potentially eligible for the honor, Dokic's Phoenix-like story back in her old adopted homeland (once removed) is enough to garner the "Comeback Player" award.

Galina Voskoboeva's win over Karin Knapp to advance to the 3rd Round, even with future-"country woman" Sesil Karatantcheva yet to play her own 2nd Round match, is enough to crown the now-and-future women of Kazakhstan the winners of this slam's "Revelation Ladies" honors.

With no true top seed having tumbled out of the tournament yet, the dubious "Crash & Burn" award is still vacant. But Nicole Vaidisova's most recent was-she-here-at-all-in-mind-body-or-spirit? exit the other day at the hands of Severine Bremond puts her in position for this one. Or at least it did before '08 Australian Open doubles champs the Sisters Bondarenko were unceremoniously dumped out in the 1st Round in their attempt to defend the title, losing on Day 3 to Gisela Dulko/Roberta Vinci 6-2/7-5.

As for the "Upset Queens," the women of France are looking pretty good. In the 1st Round, Bremond (Vaidisova), and Julie Coin (Vesnina) got somewhat "unexpected" wins. With a bounty of potential upsets by the French on Day 4 -- Coin/Medina-Garrigues, Bremond/A.Bondarenko and maybe even Razzano/Schnyder -- the odds are good that one more will be pulled off. If so, the award goes to the Pastries.

...and, finally, there were two great quotes coming from Melbourne on Day 3.

First, during Tennis Channel's coverage of the Cilic vs. Tipsarevic match, Martina Navratilova got off an all-too-true one when the discussion turned to the overly vociferous Croatian and Serbian fans in attendance. Her TV commentating partner called the always loud, often rude attendees "vocal fans." Martina chimed right in and said, with a chuckle, "more like vocal hoodlums."

Tell me, why is she stuck on Tennis Channel and not teamed -- as in the great old HBO-at-Wimbledon days -- with Mary Carillo in match coverage?

The other quote came from Dinara Safina, as pointed by "Women Who Serve's" Diane Elayne Dees. Talking about looking ahead at potential future opponents in the draw, Safina said, "The more you know, the worse you sleep."

Now that's all-timer if I've ever heard one, not to mention relatable in all sorts of areas that have nothing to do with tennis.

A: Belarus
R: Italy
W: France
U: Ukraine
A: Poland
R: Czech Republic
W: Russia
U: Slovak Republic
A: Kazakhstan

A: Yan Zi/Zheng Jie, CHN
R: Elena Dementieva, RUS
W: Tamarine Tanasugarn, THA
U: Anna-Lena Groenefeld, GER
A: Jelena Dokic, AUS

TOP EARLY ROUND (1r-2r): xxx
TOP QUALIFYING MATCH: Q3: q3 - Stephanie Dubois/CAN d. Urszula Radwanksa/POL 6-4/6-4
TOP EARLY RD. MATCH (1r-2r): xxx
FIRST SEED OUT: #23 Agnes Szavay/HUN (1st Rd.- Voskoboeva/KAZ)
IT GIRL: xxx

All for Day 3. More tomorrow.


Blogger Diane said...

About Dokic: I couldn't have said any of it better. It would take a cold person indeed not to be moved by her two wins this week. I wanted to get up and cheer for her, and I am somewhat of a Chakvetadze fan. The overwhelming roar of the crowd said it all, not to mention the dignified restraint that Dokic has shown.

She's having some trouble with that foot, though, and she doesn't need a bad foot when she meets Wozniacki. But I think a big statement has already been made.

Thu Jan 22, 12:57:00 AM EST  

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