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Wild Day Off Court in England

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun?

Apparently, Noel Coward, the author of that famous line, didn’t know Damir Dokic.

Dokic, a Serb based in Australia, draped in the flag of Saint George, appeared to be drunk on the press balcony at Wimbledon on Thursday.

He was maniacally laughing and shouting, wandering from topic to topic, among them the Queen of England, the Women’s Tennis Assn. and President Clinton.

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Dokic--whose 17-year-old daughter, Jelena, had won her second-round match, 7-6 (5), 6-2, against Gala Leon Garcia of Spain--then turned violent, tossing the cell phone of British television reporter Mark Saggers of Sky News onto the ground and breaking it into three pieces. Dokic was taken away by police and detained but was not charged.

Just another day in the tennis world.

Did someone spike the strawberries and cream this year?

All this came a day after Jeff Tarango and Anna Smashnova caused a stir with their on-court antics.

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Amazingly, Damir Dokic’s balcony show was only the first act at the All England Club on Day 4. Who knows what Coward would have made of Alexandra Stevenson and her mother, Samantha Stevenson, who, later in the day, alleged that French players Amelie Cocheteux and Anne-Gaelle Sidot had provoked confrontations, one involving racism.

Alexandra Stevenson, who lost a second-round match to Patricia Wartusch, said that Cocheteux called her a “piece of . . . black girl,” when they played last month at Strasbourg, France.

“I never said [those words],” Cocheteux told the French sports newspaper L’Equipe. “I’ve never insulted her. I don’t speak a word of English, so why would I try to insult in English? It’s purely invented.

“I said [an obscenity] because I lost.”

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Samantha Stevenson, a freelance reporter for the New York Times as recently as a year ago, said that Sidot pushed her on the shoulder and pulled her hat down over her eyes after another incident involving a practice court in Strasbourg.

“I guess they take it out on my mom because they’re scared of me because I’m taller than them or something,” Alexandra said.

Samantha Stevenson said, regarding the Sidot incident, that she was worried when some male friends of the French players came to the court. She has been a visible and outspoken presence on the tour, but the WTA recently banned mothers from the locker room before matches, a rule put into effect this spring.

“My only fear was it was going to be another Tonya Harding incident and those guys would go after Alexandra,” Samantha said.

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Sidot, who plays her third-round match today, was not available for comment.

The WTA investigated both incidents and released a statement late Thursday night, saying: “It was determined that Ms. Sidot did not physically strike [Samantha] Stevenson, but did tip her hat during a conversation regarding the use of a practice court. Ms. Sidot also alleged that Mrs. Stevenson used verbally abusive language. The tour determined that no disciplinary action was warranted.”

Alexandra also alleged that Cocheteux hit her in the locker room at the French Open. The French player said she does not remember even being in the same dressing area as Stevenson.

“Kind of brought back memories from Venus [Williams] and [Irina] Spirlea,” Stevenson said, referring to a bumping incident at the ’97 U.S. Open. “But Cocheteux is a little shorter than me. She kind of just ran the other way. I had a match, so I didn’t do anything.”

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This is the second consecutive year the Stevensons have taken center stage at Wimbledon. Last year, when the younger Stevenson reached the semifinals as a qualifier, it was revealed during the tournament that her father is basketball legend Julius Erving.

The All England Club officials seemed especially eager to send the Stevensons on their way, far from the media. As Samantha Stevenson spoke during her daughter’s news conference, officials asked about 10 reporters to leave the press interview area.

The situation grew comical. The more she talked, the more officials fretted and tried to move the media horde elsewhere. Wimbledon official Geoffrey Newton told her, “You don’t want to talk, do you?”

She assured him that she did, even as he ushered her into a car. As the vehicle prepared to leave, Stevenson gave out her cell phone number, and said, leaning out the window: “Call her into the press conference after her mixed doubles match.”

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Naturally, there is a tie between the two infamous tennis families, the Dokics and the Stevensons. Samantha reported on another incident involving Damir last year at Birmingham, England, in which he was arrested for disorderly behavior and banned from the tournament. He was lying down in traffic and police said he was drunk, locking him up for his own safety.

At the club in Birmingham, he called the members, “Nazis,” because of England’s support of the bombing of Serbia. This year, he had an altercation with a television news crew at the Australian Open. There, Jelena accused the WTA of rigging draws against her but later said she was misquoted.

All along, Damir has continued to cause problems, according to Alexandra Stevenson.

“First of all, I played doubles with Jelena in Hilton Head, I kind of made amends with her,” Stevenson said. “We were going to play [doubles]. She wasn’t very nice to me before. We played and her dad showed up drunk. My mom said, ‘You’re not playing with her again.’

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“I don’t think he counts as parental influence because he needs help.”

That became painfully obvious Thursday.

What was first a strange incident on the press balcony turned violent and threatening as Dokic yelled, “This isn’t last year!” referring to Birmingham.

After Saggers invited the Dokics to appear on Sky TV, Damir asked to borrow his cell phone, saying his wasn’t working.

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“I gave it to him. He picked it up, looked at me and smashed it and also raised his arm at me,” Saggers said. “I definitely felt threatened by him. . . . It [the phone] could have come flying off the balcony and hit a young kid.”

Then Damir Dokic made a show of asking for a credit card from his subdued wife, Liliana, and offered to pay for the phone.

Saggers joked about the smashed phone ending up in the Wimbledon museum. On a serious note, though, he said: “I don’t particularly want to see the guy again, really.”

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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Wimbledon at a Glance

* Weather: Cloudy with a little light rain. High temperature was 64.

* Attendance: 38,472. Last year on the fourth day it was 40,312.

* Stat of the Day: Only eight seeded women go into the third round, the lowest number since 1976. The fewest seeded women making it this far was seven, set in 1968 and tied in 1974.

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* Quote of the Day: “Being on the tour for the first year was very tough for me. I learned a lot and I got a lot stronger, but I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” -- Alexandra Stevenson.

TODAY’S FEATURED MATCHES

MEN

* Pete Sampras (1), U.S. vs. Justin Gimelstob, U.S.

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* Todd Martin, U.S., vs. Andre Agassi (2), U.S. (susp. match)

WOMEN

* Martina Hingis (1), Switzerland, vs. Silvija Talaja, Croatia

* Nathalie Dechy, France, vs. Venus Williams (5), U.S.

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* Cristina Torrens-Valero, Spain, vs. Serena Williams (8), U.S.


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