There’s no doubt that Jelena Dokic’s rise to stardom came fast, hard, and ferociously. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t expect any less from a fellow woman of Yugoslav descent.
She’s always been one to watch for me. I could relate to her steely focus on the tennis court and in life. Her discipline, commitment to excellence, and conflicting emotions towards a powerful and dominating male influence during her young years. I was lucky; I didn’t cop the brunt of an abusive father. My father, of English and Irish descent, was an absolute gentleman to his wife and daughters and always treated me respectfully. However, my Yugoslav heritage from my mother’s side exposed me to fine examples of the stereotypical misogynist, cruel, and hard male figure that was Demir Dokic, Jelena’s father. Yugoslav men could be ferocious and somewhat frightening. They did, however, foster a strength in their victims, or bystanders, as I was, to let them explode, grit their teeth, accept your punishment, and prove your worth to them by doing better next time.
And this is where I found Jelena’s memoir Unbreakable totally fascinating. Her acknowledgment of a fear-driven ambition to succeed and acceptance of this journey is simply extraordinary. Spending years at the mercy of her abusive father did, in fact, equip her to become the World Number 1 tennis player in 1998, at the ripe old age of 15. She was a record-breaker and an incredible force to be reconned with. While she rapidly ascended through the world tennis rankings, her mental health and family struggles also peaked. Her off-court troubles took their toll and inevitably ended in her retirement from competitive tennis in 2014.
Unbreakable is a heartbreaking recount of an abused, neglected, and tortured little girl with an incredible talent for tennis. The abuse was unrelenting and horrendous. I applaud Jelena’s courage to revisit such a traumatic time and bring awareness to domestic abuse and the secret world of toxic child-parent sporting partnerships.
Jelena almost lost everything to her father. Her spirit, her mental health, and her career winnings. What he couldn’t take from her was her talent. After many years of soul-searching and repair, Jelena has re-emerged even more inspirational than before. Although not a player anymore, the tennis court is what she still calls ‘home,’ with roles as an Australian coach, commentator, and writer.
Other notable chapters in the book include her volatile national identity, switching between representing Australia and Yugoslavia on the courts, the role of her mother during her years of abuse, and the tumultuous relationships that seemed to follow Jelena, even after her personal and professional ‘separation’ from her father.
There are very few times in my life since my son’s diagnosis with brain cancer that I can honestly say another person is worse off than us. Jelena broke these barriers for me and left me feeling grateful for my perfectly respectful upbringing compared to hers. For the kindness I received and that she could only dream of. She is a warrior who continues to fight off bullies in the form of online trolls. She has the strength and resilience to fight back and, in my eyes, is a proud and powerful woman, unwilling to accept any form of abuse.
Everyone should read this book. It’s powerful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s life-changing. You will never look at tennis, or Jelena, the same way after reading Unbreakable. Purchase your copy here – Unbreakable : Halloran, Jess, Dokic, Jelena: Amazon.com.au: Books
*Disclaimer – my description of the Yugoslav community is derived from my own personal experiences as a child born to a Yugoslav mother. I was witness to, but never a victim of, verbal or physical abuse and loved my Yugoslav Baba & Dida (grandparent) more than life itself. The Yugoslav people are generous, hospitable, and extremely resilient. I am proud to call myself part-Yugoslav and carry on many traditions and customs with my own children.
In 1946, the new constitution of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia, modelled after the constitution of the Soviet Union, established six republics, including Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Slovenia.