Dead drug dealer’s family demands Dokic’s prize money

January 23rd, 2009 - 9:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Melbourne, Jan 23(IANS) Jelena Dokic, who has had a dream run in the Australian Open tennis so far, finds herself in a soup after the revelations of her being chased over an debt to a convicted Melbourne drug trafficker. The darling of the Australian Open, who has battled back from depression and a loss of form, is accused of owing $60,000 to dead drug importer John Anthony Giannarelli.

His family now wants a slice of Dokic’s Australian Open pay packet, which will be at least $88,000 after her third round triumph over Denmark’s 11th seed Caroline Wozniacki Friday.

An overweight and desperate Dokic allegedly turned to Giannarelli at the depths of her emotional torment in early 2007.

Giannarelli, who died after a battle with cancer late last year, took on her management duties and allegedly paid for Dokic and her Croatian boyfriend to live for months in a high-rise Melbourne apartment.

He also allegedly footed the bill for meals, massages, transport and the services of dieticians and an acupuncturist.

Giannarelli’s uncle, Max Novelli, Wednesday claimed Dokic had an agreement with Giannarelli to repay him $60,000 once her career was back on track.

“Johnny did a hell of a lot for her and there’s no reason for her to do the wrong thing,” Novelli was quoted as saying in Herald Sun.

“We were going to wait until she was finished (in the Open) to see what her intentions are.

“But it’s not about the money. The point is, she’s got to do the right thing.”

He said the alleged debt would help pay for medical expenses outstanding from Giannarelli’s treatment for cancer.

Dokic’s management company, IMG, said it knew nothing of the allegations and was unwilling to quiz her on the eve of Friday night’s match. “But I have no idea about this guy,” said IMG executive David Malina.

Giannarelli, 44, pleaded guilty in the Victorian County Court in 2007 to importing 34,310 pseudoephedrine tablets from Malaysia.

Friends said Giannarelli was a good man and the real driving force behind Dokic’s fairytale comeback.

“She arrived out here broken and penniless and Johnny was the one who took the punt on Jelena,” said friend Glen Schirmer, who worked as Dokic’s dietician at Giannarelli’s request. “At his own expense he housed, fed and trained both her and her boyfriend for months.

“He said he knew that one day he’d get the money back from her. He liked her and he thought she deserved a second shot at it. He felt really sorry for her and they became very, very close.”

He said at her lowest ebb, weighing about 75kg — 16kg above her playing weight, the former world No. 4 was sleeping on the floor of a St Kilda flat.

“She was trying to get a start again but nobody wanted to touch her, so Johnny took her on,”Schirmer said.

“She was unrecognisable back then (because of her weight). But he used to say: ‘One day she will look after me’. That was the kind of guy he was.”

He said Dokic and Giannarelli met through a mutual friend at a St Kilda gym in early 2007. But in February last year, Giannarelli, a former manager of the Heat nightclub at Crown casino, was diagnosed with mesothelioma and Dokic and her boyfriend returned to Europe.

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