In junior tournaments, Jelena’s ruthless, unemotional. She even cheats on line calls to avoid her father’s beatings. He smacks her with shoes in the head, punches her in the stomach. He wraps her many wounds in words of love/ambition: “prostitute,” “whore,” “hopeless,” “worthless” . . . Jelena’s only 12, keeps rising in the rankings. Fear of punishment works. “When I painted this work,” Mark Shorter writes, “I thought a lot about her relationship to the game and her father. I was interested in the way she stared back, waiting to receive the ball, waiting to receive a question at a press conference, etc.” Like Australia’s own ACDC or Jimmy Connors at the US Open, the 187th ranked Jelena is rocking the stadium in a string of upsets on her way to the quarterfinals at the 2009 Aussie Open after years of on-court and off-court struggles. After another big upset of a highly ranked opponent, she confesses on court: “I’ve been to hell and back.”
Every day Sarah watched Isaac and Abraham from the window as they went down the valley . . .* At 13, 14, 15, 16, Jelena’s yelled at and whipped, kicked and hit like a mistreated animal. Abraham climbed Mt. Moriah . . . Jelena Dokic only 17, and in the semifinals of Wimbledon. But when Isaac saw Abraham’s face again, it had changed: His face was wild. His whole being was sheer terror. Listening in the car to Jelena’s no-holds-barred autobiography, Unbreakable, I lift my hands from the steering wheel to kill her father, to kill all those fathers who deserve to be killed. I gather myself and finish the drive home. After losing in the semifinals at Wimbledon in 2001, Jelena’s father abandons her in the clubhouse. She has nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep. History’s eyes raise questions. Bodies hit the ball back with all their might.
*All the words in italics are from Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and his retelling of the Isaac and Abraham story.
Artist Bio: “Jelena” is painted by Mark Shorter. This work is the result of a collaborative dialogue of art and words on famous Australian tennis players with Mark Shorter, the endlessly innovative Australian artist and head of sculpture at the University of Melbourne. My thanks to Gertrude Contemporary, the leading incubator of contemporary art in Australia, for hooking us up. You can check out our previous collaborations here. Our next work together is on Rod Laver.
On Jelena Dokic’s Book Unbreakable: Here our some links to background and commentary on Dokic’s stunningly searing book from ESPN and CNN. Great book. Great player. Courageous storytelling. You can follow Jelena Dokic on Instagram.
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Photograph of Jelena Dokic at the Australian Open By Steve Collis – originally posted to Flickr as Dokic, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5889800
Photograph of Jelena Dokic By JelenaDokicUSopen2011.jpg: Goran.S2derivative work: Qwfp – This file was derived from: JelenaDokicUSopen2011.jpg:, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19757367