Jelena Dokic’s beautiful moment with Aryna Sabalenka has wowed tennis fans around the world — but there are some suggestions there is a dark truth behind it.
The Aussie tennis hero on Thursday night stole the show with a classy post-match interview with the Belarusian after the No. 2 seed powered through to the women’s final with a win over American Coco Gauff.
The defending champion is the hot favourite to go back-to-back when she faces 12th seed Qinwen Zheng on Saturday, having reached the final without dropping a set.
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Sabalenka had already won the crowd over, but the loudest cheer came when Dokic made a second unusual request.
Dokic on Tuesday asked Sabalenka for a towel in a light-hearted moment that highlighted how easy it has looked for Sabalenka to blow away all her opponents at Melbourne Park.
“This might be a weird question, last one,” Dokic said.
“You’re winning so easy, you’re barely sweating … I see you’re taking these towels every match, you’ve got at least one more match … so now in front of 15,000 people you need to give me a towel because you’ve got too many.”
Sabalenka happily handed over one of the spare pieces of Australian Open merchandise.
Dokic followed it up on Thursday night by asking for another towel — that came with a classy explanation.
“After your last match … you gave me a towel; they are very precious, everyone wants one, and I said, ‘You are winning so much, you probably have about 20 in your hotel room, so you can give me one — which you were so kind enough to give me’,” Dokic said.
“I’ll take another one, by the way. But what I want to get you to do, if you’re OK with it — can you sign it, because then we will auction it off for kids and women affected by domestic violence, is that OK?”
Sabalenka kindly signed both towels while the crowd erupted in applause.
The 39-year-old former world No. 4 has bravely shared her journey of ongoing recovery from domestic abuse, depression, online abuse and body shaming — inspiring countless fans around the globe.
Dokic revealed the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of her father during her tennis career in her book Unbreakable.
She revealed she suffered regular beatings with a belt or a hard-capped boot, including one incident which saw her knocked unconscious.
It’s why she told viewers on Channel 9 earlier this week about her plan to have Sabalenka sign the towels for charity purposes.
Her campaign has received no official public support from tennis organisations, including Tennis Australia and the Australian Open.
Her move comes at a difficult time for the sport with Alexander Zverev moving through to the semi-finals of the men’s draw following news on the eve of the tournament that he will face trial in Germany over allegations of domestic abuse.
Zverev has repeatedly denied the allegations.
In a long-running saga where the ATP Tour has been criticised over the limited scope of its own 15-month investigation into accusations made against Zverev, the No. 6 seed has been ordered to stand trial, beginning from May 31.
Zverev last year contested a decision from a Berlin court that ordered him to pay a $750,000 fine for allegedly assaulting a woman in May, 2020.
Zverev’s lawyers rejected the accusations in a statement, naming the woman as Brenda Patea, the tennis player’s ex-girlfriend.
The model in 2021 gave birth to a daughter Mayla. She said Zverev is the father of the child. The pair had already split when Patea announced she was 20 weeks pregnant.
Zverev has also strenuously denied claims he violently abused ex-partner and tennis player Olga Sharypova.
It’s why Zverev’s potential run through to the final of the Aussie Open would be a disaster for the tournament and for TV broadcasters around the world— while the accusation before the German court remains unheard.
The Australian Open’s official social media channels have been limited in the number of mentions it has given Zverev, while Channel 9’s light-hearted on-court interview’s with Zverev have made some fans uncomfortable.
After Dokic’s classy moment on Thursday night, many suggested her act was comparable to the situation surrounding Zverev — who faces Daniil Medvedev in Friday night’s semi-final.
Sport reporter Molly McElwee from The Times in the UK called Dokic’s act an “important” moment that will be remembered for a long time.
She also linked Dokic’s act with Zverev’s situation.
“This is really powerful on a couple of levels,” she said in a video posted on Twitter.
“One, because Dokic herself has already spoken about how she is a survivor of domestic abuse – abuse that she suffered from her father when she was a child and a player on tour.
“It’s also really important that in the context of this tournament Alexander Zverev has gone on a run through to the semi-finals, one of his best run at a major ever. But at the same time last week news broke in May he will be facing a public trial in Germany and facing domestic abuse allegations.
“It’s really interesting that Dokic, of her own initiative and independent of the organisations and organisers of the tournament to shine a light on domestic violence when one of the biggest stars in the sport is actually facing allegations of domestic violence at the moment.”
Other tennis fans have described it as a “middle finger” for tennis officials.
Sabalenka, meanwhile, is looking to become the first player to go back-to-back at the AO since Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.