Dokic steps back on court, goes back in time

  • David Cox and Matt Trollope

Before Saturday evening’s legends doubles on Court 8, the last time Jelena Dokic stepped on an official match court had been for a first round doubles match back at Australian Open 2014.

That straight-sets defeat alongside Storm Sanders was a low-key end to a storied career which once upon a time saw Dokic reach a Wimbledon semifinal, a French Open doubles final and a career high ranking of No.4, all while just a teenager. Remarkably before this weekend, Dokic had not picked up her racquet in front of a paying audience since that match, some six years ago.

“Playing the legends was something I wanted to do last year, but I wasn’t sure because I haven’t actually played in an exhibition or an official match since I retired,” Dokic told ausopen.com. “I’ve been hitting a little bit, but it’s different actually going out and playing something official.”

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Dokic has become a TV analyst since hanging up her racquets for good

When Dokic stepped on court, alongside her former rival Dinara Safina, her main focus was simply to enjoy the experience, and not let the nerves get to her too much. Strange words perhaps from a player who once competed at Rod Laver Arena in front of thousands, but Dokic has been away from the game for a long time.

“When you haven’t done it for so many years, you actually lose that feeling of what it’s like,” said Dokic. “That was actually my only focus, don’t (get overwhelmed). I didn’t want to be so nervous that I was out there and didn’t actually enjoy the feeling.”

Dokic and Safina lost their opening match to Daniela Hantuchova and Martina Navratilova, but they are guaranteed at least two more – Iva Majoli and Rennae Stubbs as well as Nicole Bradtke and Mary Joe Fernandez.

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Safina and Dokic share memories of a famous Melbourne clash in 2009

Seeing Dokic paired with Safina may remind many fans of their quarterfinal clash back at Australian Open 2009, Dokic’s best-ever showing in front of home fans. Safina won 6-4 4-6 6-4 on her way to the final, but as Dokic knows only too well, she had her chances.

“Look, I had an opportunity in that match,” she said. “It was my first bigger tournament in a while because I came back from injury. The year before I played ITF tournaments only and I had to work my way back. I was probably a little bit fatigued but still, I know how close I was.”

However, Dokic said she has long since come to terms with the defeat and now only has positive memories of producing such a run at her home slam. “It is what it is,” she said. “Most matches, especially when it comes down to quarters, semis and finals, if they get close it’s literally down to one or two points. Do I look at it as a disappointing thing? Absolutely not. It was such a great run and to do it in your home grand slam is tough. Not that many people can play well at home. At the end of the day it’s a great memory.”

'I didn’t want to be so nervous that I was out there and didn’t actually enjoy the feeling'
Jelena Dokic

The two are good friends, going out for dinner after their match with Hantuchova and Navratilova and reminiscing about old memories, such as the time a young Safina helped Dokic warm up before the WTA Moscow final back in 2001, a title Dokic went on to win.

But for Dokic, being back at the Australian Open after all these years has given her a sense of closure, having always wanted to end her career on home soil and having been denied the opportunity through repeated injuries.

“I felt like if I wanted to play the legends event anywhere, I wanted to do it here at the Australian Open,” said Dokic. 

“I never really had an official retirement. I retired kind of quickly and I always said that if I was to retire, I’d want to do it in Australia. And I never got the chance to do that. So it felt like if I was going to play another official event again, I’d want it to be here.”