Author Talk with Jelena Dokic
Talks / Lecture
Unbreakable is the story of Jelena Dokic’s survival, in her own words. How she survived as a refugee, twice. How she survived on the tennis court to become world No. 4. But, most importantly, how she survived her domineering coach and father, Damir Dokic.
From war-torn Yugoslavia to Sydney and, later, Wimbledon, Jelena Dokic narrates her hellish ascent to international tennis stardom and her heart-breaking fall from the top.
In association with Penguin Random House
*Speakers: Maureen Dupree (M), Louise Maher (L), Jelena Dokic (J)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 27 November 2017
M: Good evening everybody and welcome to the National Library. I'm Maureen Duprée, one of the Assistant Director Generals here at the Library and we welcome you here. As we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land. I thank their Elders past and present for caring for this land which we are now privileged to call home.
Tonight we are gathered for quite an inspirational story. I was glad it was a bit rainy yesterday in Canberra and I snuggled up on my couch and I read the Unbreakable story. I think you'll find that it's a story of immense power and emotion, it's a story of people and place, triumphs and tragedy, but most of all I think tenacity and perseverance. Many of us know that at the age of 16 Jelena Dokic made the quarter finals of Wimbledon, reaching the semi-finals just one year later. At 19 ranked number one - number four in the world. Probably wished you were number one but actually four in the world at such a young age, winning her first Women's Tennis Association single's title in Rome. From there a very interesting story which we'll explore further.
As the career went on unfortunately injury, as is the case often with elite athletes brought her career to an early end. Now with much to share, Jelena focuses on mentoring young players and also commentary work with Channel 7 and with Fox Sports News. So there is much in this story that will be familiar to many of us, however there is much that will astound and confront us over the next perhaps half an hour to 40 minutes as we explore this story. So joining Jelena tonight to help us in this journey is Louise Maher who's the ABCs Canberra's online and field reporter and many of you will have listened to Louise over many years and enjoyed the way that she has such passion for true stories of real people and the insights that she can elicit. So at this point I would ask that you welcome both Jelena Dokic and Louise Maher.
L: Thank you, everyone, for being here tonight and especially thank you to Jelena, who's done a very brave thing in not only writing this book but by travelling around the country and talking to people. And there will be an opportunity as M: mentioned towards the end of our time together night when you'll have the opportunity too, to put some questions to Jelena and I'm sure that you will have quite a few. I was just wondering to start with, Jelena, what it was like for you flying into Canberra this afternoon because you've been to Canberra before when you were just - oh I think you were 12. You won the under 16 junior championships here in Canberra which was amazing, must have been amazing. But it's also the place where you write in your book and it was the first time you noticed your father, Damir, drinking -
L: - at one of your matches. There was also an incident involving a car breaking down on the side of the road in the freezing cold. So what were you thinking when you flew in today.
J: Yeah it was bumpy today so we almost didn't make it, we were a bit late with the flight so blame Qantas for that one. Yeah look I've got some very good memories of Canberra. My first event when I was 11 years old was in Canberra when we just came as refugees to Australia. So a couple of weeks later the car broke on the side of the road, got great memories of seeing the Parliament House straight away. Also I won a lot of events here, I won the under 18s nationals when I was 11. So yeah and a lot of team trips here and a lot of nice memories in juniors. I've obviously got some bad ones because that's what the book's about with what I went through with my father but all in all yeah I always loved coming to Canberra.
L: Thank you, right answer. Tell us about your early family life in Croatia. Who - before tennis became a thing in your life, who was your family, what was your situation?
J: Well we - it was Yugoslavia so before the war started, but it was actually Croatia, that's where I was born. And yeah we - look, we weren't well off but I have pretty good memories with both my parents and even though I was small I've got some very nice memories with my father up until I started playing tennis which was when I was six. That's pretty much it for all the good memories with him and basically my family.
L: But you had a little brother.
J: Yeah. No, but I - he's eight years younger so he came a little bit later. For me, I think my story starts pretty much when I was six and started playing tennis and my dad got me started and everything starts from there. I got all the abuse that started happening which is mainly what the book's about, both physically, emotionally, verbally, pretty much from when I was six. And then things also got worse in our lives because the war erupted and things got really bad and we had to leave Croatia and go to Serbia when I was eight years old. I got a lot of memories and very clear memories of what was happening. I talk about all this in my book, seeing my first dead body and being threatened that me and my brother were going to get thrown off a building. Yeah, just having to really escape overnight leaving with my racquet bag and just the clothes that we had on us when I was eight years old and trying to search for a better life.
L: Why did your father buy you a tennis racquet at the age of six?
J: I think he had this idea of wanting a good life for me but also for my family. He watched Monica Seles and Steffi Graf play the French Open final and that's where the idea came from. He saw the racquet in a sports shop in the window and that was it.
L: And was it just a happy chance in a way that you were good at it straight away?
J: Yeah I was very good at it but yeah I was very competitive actually straight away even in school and other sports and I was actually very good, I had a very good hand, eye co‑ordination and very good -
L: He must have known that about you.
J: I think so with other ball sports and stuff like that so I think he did see that a little bit. And then I think tennis was the option.
L: How did the abuse start, what can you remember?
J: Well it pretty much started straight away when I started playing tennis so I talk about that in the book and pretty much the first or second training session that I had he wasn't happy, he wasn't satisfied and that was it, that's how it started. He'd got out of control through the years and really escalated when we came to Australia when I was 11 and we came to Sydney and it just spiralled out of control through the years.
L: A lot of people - everyone asks, what about your mum? What was your mum doing because she knew that this was happening to you, that you were being beaten, that you were being called horrible things, that you were being abused in this way but she didn't intervene.
J: No she didn't, she was actually a little bit herself, nowhere near as much as I was and she had this thing that me and my brother should grow up with both parents. She grew up without a mother and father and she really missed that in her life and she was going to make sure that we didn't under whatever circumstances. So I think she took it a bit too far and yeah she just stood by and thought that whatever he was doing was the right thing. That where she stood the whole time through everything for 15, 20 - about 25 years. Even after I left home when I was 19 still stood by him and was on his side.
L: So you were dealing with what your father was doing to you but also what your mother wasn't doing for you.
J: Well look I don't blame her even today, I don't judge what she did for me. It was actually harder after I left home because I made this decision, I was in such a tough position with my father, not just privately but publicly with all the embarrassment and everything that I was going through and I decided to leave, and when I left she got even tougher on me. She really didn't agree with that and wanted me to return no matter what I was going through, whether I was going to get abused again, she wanted me to come back. That was hard on me. I didn't have that support when I left home from her and it made it very difficult.
L: When you were a little girl you were really close to your dad's father, your grandfather.
L: Tell us a bit about your father's background.
J: Well I tried to understand that part of his life as well because I always try to search for answers about everything and his behaviour and everything that happened but I couldn't find them and I couldn't talk to him about it. He was abused himself by his mother, not by his father, and he always resented her and really didn't agree with the way that she treated him. So yeah it was hard for me to understand then why he did that. But that's pretty much I think all I know. I know his father and mother, obviously my grandparents even though my grandfather died -
L: In the war?
J: Yeah, so two years after we left Croatia, which was very hard on everybody but especially - yeah that was hard on me actually because I felt like out of everybody he was the only person that really understood and my dad would never ever hit me in front of him, he didn't allow him, so I felt protected there and then this person was gone so that was very difficult.
L: Life was difficult for you and for your whole family really when you were in Serbia and your father made the decision to come out to Australia because you had a relative already in Australia so it seemed like a good option. Tell us what it was like for you as a family in Fairfield in those early months in Australia as refugees from Yugoslavia.
J: Well we were already refugees going from Croatia to Serbia and we had a very difficult life. I describe that quite a bit in the book and my mum and I with my three month old brother, we escaped and lived in a rat infested shed for a long time and very difficult -
L: That was in Serbia?
J: Yeah, very difficult conditions. And then we almost started settling in and things started to get a little bit better and we had to move to Australia because I was getting better at tennis and all the restrictions hit because of the war so there was no travel, no visas. My father had an auntie in Sydney and he - that was basically the way out and then we came to Fairfield and again very tough conditions, all slept on one mattress on the floor and until we started to slowly settle in. But for a long time yeah life was difficult.
L: And you didn't speak English.
J: No, none of us spoke English. I learnt very quickly, started school straight away, but -
L: Because you were always clever at school, weren't you?
J: Yeah I was always very good at school, excellent, but there was still that adjustment because it was a bit of a culture shock, we -
L: A bit, yes.
J: We come from eastern Europe, the mentality and everything is so different. Even though I found that I actually fit in quite quickly but my father, which was always - he was the main thing and main reason - if something was wrong with him everything was wrong so he didn't fit in. I think he never wanted to leave home, yeah.
L: And he started drinking -
L: - do you think maybe to ease the pain of being away from his country?
J: Yeah I actually saw him do it first time when we came to Australia, I'm not sure whether it was happening before that, I was quite - still young and didn't take notice of it. But yeah it really spiralled out of control in Australia pretty much straight away. I think he had a lot of problems - that we came here, he really didn't want to leave, he had the whole thing with the war and I think it really affected him and he just struggled in Australia.
L: I love the story of how he found somewhere for you to start tennis by seeing some guy with a whole lot of tennis balls in the boot.
L: That's a funny story. But before too long you were really back into that training and working really hard at perfecting your tennis skills. Give us - paint us a picture of what the days were like for you in terms of how tennis fitted in with school and with your home life.
J: Oh it was quite a schedule. I was, again, I went to school all the way up until Year 10 which is quite good, I think, for a tennis player because everyone stops school so early and then I finished Year 11 and 12 by home-schooling. So yeah it was difficult because like I said, it was more about my dad getting out of control so more so than the workload which he made me do so much. So it was more dealing with him on a day-to-day basis and his abuse got worse and worse and something I describe quite a lot and go into detail in my book, from emotional to verbal to physical and days where he made me run an extra 10 kilometres were the easy days so considering I could have got beaten with a belt and called all these horrible names when you're a girl who's 11 years old. So yeah it was very tough to handle all that, a lot of pressure and constantly being told that I'm the family's way out and if I don't succeed everyone's gong down with me basically. So it's a lot to put on someone who's 11 or 12 or 13.
L: Indeed, and it seemed as though you could never please him, it wasn't as though if you did really well that he would go, Jelena, that's great, give you a hug and say well done and give you that positive encouragement. That was never there. What were you thinking of as a child about the way he was treating you, what does a child think when their parent treats them that way?
J: Yeah look I went through it for such a long time. It started when I was six, so for me it was every day life. It became almost normal, even though I knew it wasn't normal and that's not how a normal family should function. So it was very difficult because actually all I wanted was one word here or there and it would have made all the difference. And it just didn't come, so yeah it was hard because even winning or even a good training session, I wasn't safe from being abused or hit. So winning a match wasn't always - I wasn't sure that I would still - come off the court and that he would be satisfied.
L: So there was always that fear?
J: Yeah, always, all the time. Yeah, 24/7.
L: You had - you were a popular happy child before you came to Australia, you say in the book. And when you came to Australia your father didn't want you to make friends, so what was that like for you at school, for example, and then when you were starting to play tennis with other young tennis players when your father forbade you to have a relationship with other young people.
J: Yeah, he didn't allow that even though I tried to make friends at school because I felt like he would know when - it was different at tennis because he was there but -
L: He was always there.
J: Yeah but at school he wasn't but still I was - I couldn't fit in at school, I tried and I was actually bullied at school. And then in the tennis community yeah he made it very difficult as well for me but even the trips that I went to with the other kids I faced a lot of difficult situations, again something I talk about in the book. It was hard when you're 13 and you go on a team trip and you want to bond with the other players from your country.
L: And they tell you to go away.
J: To go back where I came from, so that really hit me hard, that was very difficult. And I faced a lot of that, parents going to Tennis Australia and asking for my scholarships to be taken away because I'm a refugee and I came five minutes ago and I'm 11 and number one in three age groups so very difficult times on top of everything else that I had. I've really felt like I was pushed out and nobody really wanted me to succeed.
L: And in those early days too, your family was very poor, you didn't have a car, you had to take endless public transport options across Sydney to get to White City. There's a heartbreaking story of when you were overseas with your young players and you're all about to go out and you're dressed in your tennis gear because that's all you had.
L: So there was that pressure as well as everything else. It must have been - and this is what - in the time since the book was published and the interviews that you've given, there's been a lot of sole searching amongst people in the world of sport and in the media as well because people knew that something wasn't right. There was an horrific incident at Traralgon when you father was beating you so badly in the motel room -
J: Glen Waverly.
L: Sorry, Glen Waverly, sorry.
J: That's all right.
L: Beating you so badly in the motel room that someone called the police and you and your little brother and your dad are dragged down to the police station, he's charged but you know that if you say what he's been doing to you your life will be worse. But people knew that something was going on. Why do you think that people didn't push harder to find out what was happening?
J: Well look I think people knew but I - to a certain extent I understand that it's hard to get involved in a family matter, especially something that's sensitive. So yeah I don't blame anyone really. I think for me the bigger problem was when I did leave home which was when I was 19 that I found no support at all. So even if you did know what was going on behind closed doors he did so many things publicly that if you thought for a second well there's a 14 year old girl going home with this person, and I think media played a big part in it because he was a joke and he was made fun of and he was a headline but it -
L: Yeah, it was great tabloid. It was great fodder for the tabloid.
J: Yeah, it wasn't funny at all because they all did so many interviews with him and interacted with him, they would see him at tournaments and he was drunk and he was aggressive so I didn't for a very long time, even today I don't understand why it was made fun of because actually it really wasn't. So I think a lot of people probably and a lot of things could have been done different and I think that's what this book is about, not just for me and to tell my story, because - and also for people to get to know me which I think they never really got to know me because of him and I always - people always connected me with him even though I distanced myself from him and didn't live with him and had anything to do with him from the age of 19. I think it's also good because people can learn so much from what happened to me and in this case and make sure that no other kid goes through this ever again.
L: What do you think would have made the difference, what do you think could have been done to stop that cycle?
J: Well look I think - again I think the media could have handled things differently. Maybe a few other people but I think also -
L: Did your dad like being in the media?
J: I think so. I think he had to like it to do what he was doing publicly but I also think he did certain things - at Wimbledon, US Open, Australian Open, as we know, Birmingham, and there was just no - he was not banned, and if I'm being completely honest I think he should have been banned. And it went on for quite a few times so maybe it wouldn't have made a difference with me in my life but he certainly wouldn't be able to come on the tour and cause problems so I think some of the things like that/
L: How did you finally break away from him?
J: I didn't, I escaped at two o'clock in the morning and I didn't know what was going to happen, I was so scared. And I was still scared 10 years' later of him, I was extremely scared because I think when you're abused so early on in your life and that's all you know, I just had this big fear of him. And yeah I left in the middle of the night, no money, no credit cards, I left everything over to him. And that was it, I just had my racquet bag and I left.
L: You were - at the time you had a boyfriend called Enrique who was a Brazilian racing driver who you say in the book that you really loved but he turned out to be quite a controlling figure too.
L: Not to the extent that your father was but not the sort of guy that you want to be with, but he helped you to escape from your father. As you said, you had to sign over all your money to your father, not only what you already had, but you had to keep sending him money and again that was out of fear or to?
J: No, that was because I knew he was money hungry, everything was about money, which he told me - he used to tell me that for almost 15 years. So I knew that that was very important to him and I thought if I sign all this over, I gave him millions, that that would make things better when I leave and that it would - even though I knew he would go mental which he did, I thought it would just ease everything and make the situation a little bit better but it didn't. And I continued to do it because I thought again he would calm down but he didn't. And money, to be honest with you, didn't - doesn't mean much to me, all I wanted was peace and that was it.
Enrique, look, in a way, it was the perfect situation, I just needed someone to escape with and he didn't turn out to be great but I realised that very quickly and was able to say no to that as well. Because I think I was very determined in what I wanted, what kind of life I wanted and I knew this was not it and I knew me personally always what I wanted was just a family, that's what I always longed for which is what I didn't have. So anything else, any other above, any other control and something I wasn't happy with I was just going to get rid of, it was as simple as that.
L: You were - you're so great at tennis, you were so great. And when you were on the court were you - there was - I know that there was one part of you that was determined to do well to try to prevent your father abusing you but what about the times that you just really loved playing?
J: Oh I loved playing from the first time I hit the ball. I really do love tennis and even through the really tough times when it's hard to enjoy tennis on the court and train and compete and travel and everything, I still love it.
L: Why do you love it, what is it about that game?
J: I don't know, I just love hitting the ball and I love the sound of it. I love everything. I love my racquets and I don't let anyone touch them. So I don't know, it's just when you have this passion and that's what it's about. And that's another thing why I was - I don't hate my father but I was at times very angry with him and then sad and then disappointed because I think ultimately he cost me my career and certainly how long my career could have been because that's all I wanted. All I wanted was to play tennis and have a normal family.
L: And for the family.
J: Yeah, that's it. So I was very angry with him for doing everything to tear our family apart in the end which is what he did. And also cost me my career, yeah.
L: And the great shame of it too, is that he studied tennis, he studied - he did awful things like make you sack coaches and make you lie about draws being rigged and made you lie to the media, made you go back to Yugoslavia which we'll talk about too. But he actually studied tennis so intensely that he was a good - he knew the game, he knew what to do to be a good coach.
J: Yeah he's actually very intelligent and he's smart, he always - he studied it, he - all the coaches that I had, he learned from them and he would always take what he thought were good things from each one of them and he would work with me on them. So he was very smart with that.
L: So it could have been a great team.
J: Yeah, it could have been, very. It was for a while, no matter what he did to me physically and the abuse that I went through, still tennis wise he knew what he was doing and that's why ultimately I have to give him credit for that. He is responsible for getting me to a certain level because -
L: But you may have got there anyway.
J: Look, maybe, yeah, but look he worked with me, he really did as far as that's concerned, he really knew what he was doing.
L: Wimbledon, 1999 when you were just 16 years old and you beat Martina Hingis in two sets, it was one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. Your father was horrid to you, appalling, but give us a sense of the elation that you felt when you beat Martina Hingis?
J: Yeah he was terrible the next year, but he was this year too. Yeah an unbelievable moment for me but I talk about it in the book how that went away in two seconds because I looked over at him and he was walking off the court, no acknowledgement, no happiness, nothing.
L: Not even a thumbs-up.
J: No, but I still tried to enjoy that as much as I could but it was hard the quarter finals that year, semi finals the following year and the following year I made the semis, lost to Lindsay Davenport who was number one in the world and ended up winning that Wimbledon and -
L: And that's when he told you not to come back to the hotel.
J: Yeah I wasn't allowed to come back home and again no money, nothing, and I tried to fall him again and ask him - tell him that I have nowhere to go and he said he didn't care, so I stayed at Wimbledon, players' lounge, and I tried to hide in the corner and sleep the night on the couch but the cleaner found me at 11 o'clock at night and called the officials.
L: When you finally did manage to escape from your father and you continued your career but you didn't have a happy time with coaches after that, you couldn't find the coach that fitted.
L: And you also gave one particular coach who happened to be the brother of the love of your life so many chances and he let you down. Why did you - how did that happen?
J: I actually -
L: Was it a complicated family structure?
J: No, it was the fact that I actually was looking for more - not just a coach but someone who would be a friend really. I think that's important because I went through so much and I just needed someone to lean on really or an older brother because I at the time when I left home my father didn't allow me to talk to my brother for six years and tried to manipulate with him so that was very hard on me. So I was almost looking for a replacement or a great friend. And yeah I had a very tough time with him and he went off with another player and yeah it was a mess and a conflict of interests and he ended up coaching her behind my back and a lot of problems.
But yeah I tried to give him a few chances based on the fact that yeah we were family but it's hard because I constantly searched for someone and there was no-one there which ultimately with everything that was going on together with my family really got me into a really dark time and I battled really bad depression and almost committed suicide. So all of that together wasn't a good combination.
L: It's no surprise at all that at some point in your life all this caught up with you and you did fall into this terrible state of depression and anxiety and what sounds - reads a lot like post-traumatic stress syndrome and you say you did think about taking your own life but also what I found amazing reading the account of those times was that you did seek professional help but again you were let down, no-one could really help you deal with all that stuff that had to be dealt with.
J: Yeah, I think it's hard to understand. I did have therapy a little bit but it was just so complicated. I think even reading the book sometimes I feel like maybe the book doesn't do the whole story justice because it's so hard to explain to people and write about it and put it on paper. That's why I had some issues in the editing process before we went to print because I was constantly questioning whether I described it well enough, and whether I put it because actually to live it was really a nightmare.
L: And because you're talking about months and -
J: We're talking years.
L: - years, and you can't - you have to sum that up in a few paragraphs, you can't sum that up in a few paragraphs.
J: Exactly. So it was hard. It was very hard because I felt also my father was giving me - he made my life hell even after I left home and I was constantly made to feel really guilty and that I was responsible for everything. Not being able to talk to my brother was the hardest thing ever. So there was a combination of all these things and after a while - I still played well for a while after I left home but then it just - yeah it was too much and it almost snapped. I talk about almost committing suicide in the book and almost jumping off a balcony which, a little bit to this day I don't know why I didn't in a way, because I just felt it would be better for everyone.
L: How can you talk about all this now, Jelena, because you're travelling around the country, you're doing lots of media interviews, you're sounding very clear and matter of fact but we're talking about tumultuous things that happened to you and emotions and you having to fight your way out of some very, very dark places. How are you so composed?
J: Maybe I look composed, I don't know.
L: You do look composed, you sound composed.
J: Yeah, sometimes I still - now when I talk about it I'm close to tears, I am, but it's taken me a long time. If I had to do this five years ago I wouldn't be able to do it and talk about it but that's why I think this book I was actually ready to write it. I didn't know when that would be, whether it would be now or in five years or in 10 years but I was ready. I wish I could have done it while I was playing, it would have I think actually made a difference but I wasn't ready. And I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders and I feel really good about it but it's still a little bit hard but I'm just in a place where it's been obviously some time has passed by, it's been quite a few years and I'm - I feel like I'm really mature now and I've accepted things for what they are.
This was just the way my life was supposed to be. Some people have a family and a great support system, I didn't have that and that's fine. I think it's about moving forward and thinking about the future because I think for me there is a higher goal now here and for me ultimately the biggest one is to have my own family and break the cycle and to make sure I do things differently.
L: You say that the hardest thing that you - well one of the most awful things your father did was make you turn your back on Australia and play for Yugoslavia and you say that the part of reason why you've written this book too is so people, Australians, everyone gets to know you, who you were, you weren't that sullen difficult person who didn't like to make fiends, you wanted friends, you wanted to be part of that tennis family and you weren't allowed to do that. So that is a great thing too, but you did come back to Australia, there were times when Australians treated you really badly and they didn't understand the full story but then you did come back to Australia and played at the Australian Open. How did you feel when people yelled out, go Jelena?
J: Yeah in my head it was a very easy decision but actually it was just - I was so worried about coming back because I was worried about the people's reaction. And obviously, like I said, I don't hate my dad but if there's one thing that I might be close to, it's because of this decision that he made me do this when I was 17 in 2001 and made me literally turn my back to Australia because I actually felt Australian, I loved playing for Australia and I would never have done that. I was very aware of Australia helping me become the person and the player that I was no matter how many difficult situations I had in the tennis community and I faced a lot.
I still was very appreciative and I knew how much Australia and Tennis Australia put into my career and my life and funded it and I would never have been the player without them. And also it was just as simple as that, I really felt at home here. Even though he didn't, I did, and he made me do this and I think it was a calculated move, I talk about that in the book as well, I think he was always going to do that and wanted us to go back but I didn't. And yeah I was 17, I was made to do this and walking out on Rod Laver Area 24 hours after he made me do it was one of the worst moments of my life, worse than any abuse that he put me through and if there's one thing I could take back is turning my back to Australia which he made me do and I would take that back before any of the abuse. I will really like to turn back time and take that back.
It was hard coming back because I think Australians did give me a second chance but also I think I had to work on that relationship and walking out on that first grand match, the Australian Open. I was nervous, it was hard but I got the biggest reception ever which was great and 2009 Australian Open was the first time I walked out onto Rod Laver again after that very difficult first round match in 2001 where I was geared and got a really bad reception which was understandable. And a lot of emotions. Yeah and again such a great reception but I still - even though I got a lot of support from the Australian public I still feel like they didn't know the real me and I was still at times judged for what I did and now when I look at it and people reading the book and coming up to me, I see just how much they really didn't know me. So in a way it's good to be able to get this book out maybe for that one selfish reason. But yeah I really did this for so many other reasons and really to try and help for people to see what happened and make them realise that we can learn so much from what happened to me.
L: It would be naïve to think that it still doesn't go on but there are still some parents pushing their children to the point of abuse because they're trying to live their dreams through their children or they see their child and their ability and their talent as the way to lift the family out of whatever. And not just in the sporting world, in the world of entertainment, anywhere. So your books helps break down the what's often been a silence around that. What would you say to a young person who's going through this now and who is in that situation that you were that to say anything against your father or whoever would be to break the family apart would be a traitor, that would be the worst thing that you could do. How would you give them the strength to get out of that?
J: Well it's happening, whether we want to admit it or not and it's happening in tennis, in sport, in everyday life. It's actually disappointing because since the book's come out people have come up to me and said, look, this is still happening in tennis, we know it's happening. So it's hard to hear that. I'm not sure whether those cases are as extreme as mine, maybe they are, mine was quite extreme, I'm aware of that. But yeah look it's very difficult also because I feel like since the book's come out and I didn't have this feeling before is that everyone's so surprised in a good way but so surprised that I'm speaking up and that I'm speaking out and it looks like it's still almost a normal thing to not talk about it.
Yeah that's a surprise so I'm glad I did it for a lot of reasons and it feels really good for people to come up to me and give me all this support but also say look you're going to make a difference which feels really good, I really want to take this to another level. I would like for more people to come out and talk about it and to have the courage and to have the strength and I know it's difficult because I went through that but it's out there, it's happening.
For me I think the support system, I think it's about really almost researching what you can do, where you can go, who you can talk to which I didn't know at the time and I was very young and I think these are better today because I really didn't have anyone that I could go to. And if you do know someone who's going through a tough time I think it's about even just asking them how they're doing and offering help or even a kind word which is all I wanted as well.
I've had a couple of cases in the last few years and a couple of opportunities actually where I've done that and it wasn't necessarily physical abuse but just a couple of people and a couple of girls that were struggling in general and all I did was give them a hug and ask them how they're doing, give them my number and whenever - no matter what time it is, what day it is, Sunday, weekend, whatever day or night, just to give me a call. And I've done it a couple of times and it's worked.
L: And have they reached out?
J: Yes they have, yeah. So I think that's what it's about because I - look, I wasn't going to come out and talk against my father when I was 15, but I left when I was 19 and distanced myself from that and it was still so difficult. So difficult that four or five years later, we talked about it, I almost committed suicide, so it's just as important to be there for someone once they leave, it's just a hard, maybe even harder once they leave an abusive situation.
L: Over the years you've made several attempts to reconcile with your father to give him a chance to be a family. It hasn't worked out. Do you think he'll read the book? What do you think about him reading this?
J: I think he knows about the book.
L: He'd have to know about the book.
J: Yeah, I think everyone knows about the book. Yeah it's hard, I've tried to reconcile and we're just on such different levels and he shows no remorse, he doesn't think he did anything wrong, he's talked about it publicly and says that he thinks that that's how you should discipline your children and yeah it's hard to talk to a person who thinks that way, it's just hard to start any kind of communication. So I've given up on that, I think it's time to move on.
L: You're writing, you're coaching, you're commentating, do you still enjoy playing?
J: Yeah I get out there sometimes. I don't coach as much, I've done a little bit of it and I actually enjoy it. I have quite a bit of patience for it and I've worked with kids which is good. I'm more in TV and commentary, motivational speaking and writing. So that has been really good.
L: But you can still enjoy tennis.
J: Oh yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So I've got a lot of things that I'm doing which I like and I think I've made quite a good transition from being a professional athlete into normal life because it's so difficult. We're almost under - it's not a normal life when you're a professional athlete especially tennis, it's very different -
L: That's the circuit.
J: Yeah it's very different when you finish playing and going to normal life, all of this is gone, the adrenalin is gone, the people around you are gone.
L: The adulation.
J: Yeah, so I think I've done a pretty good job. I've got things that I'm doing that I really like, that I really enjoy and I'm lucky that I can do a few things at the same time.
L: I think you've done a pretty good job too, Jelena.
J: Thank you.
L: Thank you so much.
M: We have some questions. So, wow, what a story.
J: Thank you.
M: And I must say, I was reading the book yesterday and my son said, are you enjoying that, mum, you look traumatised and I said, but I can't put it down, it's amazing.
J: Yeah a lot people say we need therapy after this book.
L: But still read it.
M: Yeah, absolutely, you can't put it down. It's a stunning story and a bit confronting. So we do have time for some questions. So the way we do things in the Library is we put our hands up big and high and we wait for Cat or Sharon with the microphones to come by. So questions, I know we have one down the front and one in the middle.
L: Yes and this lady here.
J: Feel free to ask whatever you want really.
A: Thank you very much. Jelena, thank you so much. Michael is my name from Melbourne. A tennis fan, I've watched you from the very start of your career when you burst onto the scene.
J: Thank you.
A: A huge fan of your courage. May I say that I think you've become a much more powerful voice now globally for positive change with sharing your story than perhaps even if you'd won Wimbledon or become number one in the world.
J: Thank you.
A: A much more significant achievement.
J: Thank you.
A: So much more. Thank you for sharing the story, you've made many of us feel that we're not alone and that's a gift that is so rare and so precious, so thank you for that.
J: Thank you.
A: Thank you for your courage as well and a demonstration of that courage and all the benefits of that and that gives us all strength. I'd like to ask you a couple of things, one is I believe now because tennis is a global sport that you will be a much, as I say, more powerful voice for positive change from hereon in your career. What would you like to achieve hereon, and the other question is you mentioned breaking the cycle with your own family and I was a court reporter, a journalist for many, many years and I know how critical and difficult that is. Would you coach a child into tennis or professional sport, and if I may, just one third question.
L: He's cheeky.
M: We might need to let others have a go as well.
J: That's okay.
A: Just a question about duty of care on the women's tour and the men's tour for teenagers whether you think there needs to be a greater duty of care by the professional sports tour. Thank you.
J: Thank you. Thank you for the kind words, first of all, it really means a lot. Yeah look breaking the cycle, I think, like I said, my father, no matter what he did he went through a really tough time with his mother and so for a couple of generations it's been happening in my family so big, big goal for me obviously I would love to have a family. And that's a big goal for I think me and my partner, hopefully husband soon. Yeah is to parent differently, to really do it differently and it's all about keeping the family together, I think, that's a really big goal of mine for the rest of my life before anything else, any other work or anything else. So that's a first thing. Second thing, what was the second question?
L: Duty of care on the circuit.
J: Yeah, look it's hard because like I said I think it's better today. I'm not sure whether - how many people I would have had to turn to, like 20 or 25 years ago. I think it is - I'm not directly involved in WTA or in the Australian tennis or Tennis Australia so I don't know exactly what's there but yeah I think it could always probably be better. I think it's about having psychologists on both the tour and every federation in every country, especially the grand slam ones so that would be Tennis Australia as well. I know that they're working on it from a couple of years ago already.
And yeah I think it's about just having that support system there because, like I said, for me it was hard to go through everything with my father but it was so much harder when I left home, I really had no-one to talk to, no-one to turn to. So I think it's about putting measures in place, putting a support system in place. And for players to know who they can call and who they can turn to.
And I would also, to be honest with you, also like to see other coaches, other players on the tour really support each other. I think it's a very brutal sport, it's very competitive, there's obviously a lot of money involved which makes things very difficult but I would like to see everyone almost come together.
L: And the other question was what would you like to achieve?
A: For the rest of your life.
J: Yeah, look I think this book, I talk about wanting to help people and at the end of my book I put in there even before this came out obviously is that if this book helps one person it's mission accomplished and I think it's already done that which is great, but it's - I think about taking it further and to be honest with you I didn't think it was going to be this big. I didn't think that I could maybe make this much of a difference but people are listening. A lot of people are talking about it, not just in Australia but worldwide and hopefully I can get involved with a lot of charities and even if that's WTA or Tennis Australia and really help a lot of kids, a lot of sports people in general and even people outside of the sport, yeah. Thank you.
A: Thank you for your inspiration and for sharing your story with us.
J: Thank you.
A: But I think we're talking about family and I just felt sad, I hope you've reconciled with your mother and your brother. Have you at all?
J: Yeah I talk to my mother. It's a work in progress and I think she feels like obviously she's done - something is wrong but yeah we talk about it. We had some very difficult conversations and yeah look I have some mixed feelings about her support over the years and the way she stood with everything but again I'm willing to give everything a chance and we talk and I see her. My brother, I have a great relationship with. We started talking again in 2008, end of 2008, after not being able to talk for six years, which was really good for me. I felt like pretty much the day that I started to talking to him again, that's when I started to get better mentally so yeah that has been I think the really good part.
A: Jelena, I haven't read your book but I did notice when I was in the foyer, I'm a coach myself and I just wondered, you mention that Tony Roche was a very good coach. What were the particular characteristics that he had that added to your game and do you still have - are you still in contact with him? He would have been a good mentor for you, I would have thought.
J: Yeah unbelievable. First of all an unbelievable man, he's one of the nicest kindest people ever. Tennis wise, yeah he brought a lot to my game from - I struggled a little bit with my serve when I was younger and I worked with him when I was about 16 so he helped my serve a lot. He helped my net game a lot to get me to come forward because I had very good ground strokes and I was very good from the baseline so he helped that. He brought different things into it from slice to just really making me work hard and even though I had a really good work ethic and discipline, he really constantly - I could always learn something and he was working with Pat Rafter at the time, which was absolutely amazing, I learned a lot from them too.
But with Tony Roche I didn't work with him for such a long time because my dad obviously fired him or made me fire him because he wasn't happy, which again if you read the book you will see just how bad I feel about that as well. Yeah for years and years after that I had trouble even looking Tony in the eye because of that and I felt really bad and guilty and I apologised to him, I think he knew obviously everything that was going on and that it wasn't my decision. I apologised to him but I still years and years later had difficulty going up to him and talking to him but yeah we talk through the years. He was on the court back with me a few years ago as well and we stayed in contact.
L: Do you have another question?
A: Thanks so much for sharing your story. I wanted to ask you a question about resilience. As a parent with a young child myself, I often think to myself how can I raise my son to be resilient and have grit and determination and I do that by surrounding him with love, but you didn't necessarily have that but you've got so much resilience and so much grit and determination. Where does that come from? Did that come because of your experience or in spite of your experience?
J: Yeah, probably because of my experience. I have to be honest, I think not just because of my father but being a refugee twice and fleeing home twice and seeing a whole lot of things that I've seen very early on. Yeah I think I grew up probably a lot faster than a lot of other kids and you grasp the concept of life and war very early on. So I think that's what definitely made me very resilient. But I think there are other ways to do it as well. You can still be - yeah I still think you can be very supportive and very loving towards your kid but you can also show him what he needs to do and work hard and have discipline and sometimes be a little bit tough on them when that needs to be done but without the abuse. So yes I'm sure - I'm not a parent, I'm sure it's a fine line and it's difficult at times but for me I think you can still do so much with love and support, it doesn't mean that they have to be abused to make them a good tennis player or good at anything in life.
M: Last question?
L: Oh, can we have two clear last questions?
J: We can have a few more, that's fine.
L: Is that okay?
A: Hi, Jelena.
A: I'm Serbian and I'm a psychologist that mostly works with young people. So look I - the book was really quite harrowing to read but what actually struck me about it mostly is that almost some of the scenes seem familiar, some of the abuse seemed familiar to me within certain communities. So I think growing up in a Serbian community in Canberra and Queanbeyan, I think that it was actually quite normalised for students to or young people to cop some kind of abuse. It seemed to me more than others and I think it's still hard for a lot of our young people that come from migrant families especially new arrivals, whether they be even Asian or that seemed to not, I suppose, challenge this kind of normalised perception that the way that you treat children is probably not to the standards that we have here.
So I think that of course it's changed a lot and the second and third generation migrants are probably not doing that as much but it certainly I think was quite normalised within ethnic communities. Do you think that that's a little bit of a factor? I certainly find that your father really would meet the criteria for pretty significant personality disorder, if you ask me. But we don't have that kind of dialogue, that conversation around mental health and mental illness and again that we've just normalised behaviours that are really pathologically pretty serious.
J: I think generally as you know obviously that's the part of the world that you're from eastern - that eastern Europe and the Balkan area, I think that yeah it is quite normal. Unfortunately a lot of people even since the book's come out from that area are coming to me and saying they've gone through the same thing and it's still happening. So yeah whether it's that kind of culture and mentality over there, absolutely it is. That's why I said, it's about speaking up and again speaking out and I wish that more people were doing it. In a way I'm disappointed that people are saying - telling me, well you're the first one that's been open about this and you're so honest in your book. But I feel like we shouldn't have to - the true - if we're saying the truth and being open about stuff that it's just such a shock.
So in a way yeah it's a little bit disappointing and I hope more people will do it. I don't know what to tell you, it's definitely a pattern in that part of the world and I don't think it's as much here, though, I don't think so yeah I think anywhere in the world, whether it's Australia, eastern Europe, wherever it is, again I think it's about speaking out, trying to really break the cycle. I don't like to talk about this but a couple of reporters have actually asked me about everything that happened in the States with the Harvey Weinstein thing and how everything is just now come out and collapsed. That's what we need, this needs - people need to talk about this and look how much is coming out regarding that even though for me it's so hard to talk about that and to imagine what everyone was going through. But so many women and I'm sure there's more that haven't come out.
L: It's a cascading effect, isn't it.
J: Yeah so whatever it is, whether it's physical abuse, sexual, whatever it is, I think we need to talk about this, this needs to come out because that's I think the only way we can fix this and see what else we can do.
A: I haven't read your book as yet and hopefully the question's not too personal but after everything that you have gone through with your dad can I ask why you felt such an a need, I think you said you've attempted to reconcile your relationship about seven times now. Do you know why you'd like to do that or?
J: Look, I think at the end of the day the family was broken, that was it, everyone I felt went their own way, everyone was in a really difficult position in my family. My brother and I are pretty much the only ones that stayed the closest and have a really good relationship. I tried. I think maybe because I am - it was just so hard for me to accept that a family, so a mother, a father, a wife, a husband, whatever it is, that they can't came together and make this work so I wanted to - yeah now after 15 years I realised that's not possible but I wanted to, I wanted to give him a chance. I wanted to see almost if he's changed, if he's willing to have any kind of communication with me and with my brother, if we can come together and maybe try and work on this. But yeah look it's not possible but I really wanted to make sure I did everything that I could so that I cannot maybe say in 10 years' time well I didn't try hard enough. And sometimes people say things might change when they get older or if something happens and they die, this might sound harsh but you know what, I've done everything. I've done everything I can, I've really tried to talk to him to give him a chance a lot of times and it's almost like he doesn't want it in a way. Yeah, so I have no regrets.
M: I think that's a very good place for us to draw this part of the conversation to a close but the night is not over so I would encourage you to join us for some refreshments upstairs in the foyer. Jelena has kindly agreed to sign copies of her book which I can, I think, from the few people that have read it in the room we can say it's unbeatable in terms of a read. It's certainly an unbreakable young woman. Fantastic story, thank you, Louise. So can I ask you to thank Louise and Jelena.
L: Thank you.
J: Thank you.
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