The incredible comeback story of Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni

Wednesday January 25th, 2017

The dream run continues for Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in Melbourne, as the 34-year-old veteran upset No. 5-seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 on Wednesday at the Australian Open. The victory put World No. 79 Lucic-Baroni in her first semifinal at a Grand Slam tournament since Wimbledon in 1999. She awaits the winner of the later quarterfinal between Serena Williams and Johanna Konta. 

Interested to know more about the Australian Open semifinalist Lucic-Baroni? Learn about her incredible comeback story below.

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She last reached a Grand Slam semifinal in 1999

Before this week in Melbourne, Lucic-Baroni’s career-best performance at a major came in 1999 at Wimbledon at the age of 17. In the third round, she beat then-No. 4 Monica Seles before ultimately falling to second-seeded Steffi Graf, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4. After the match Graf gushed that her opponent was more advanced than she had been at the same age.

“Back then was kind of expected of me and it was normal. I won a lot as a junior,” Lucic-Baroni said after her fourth-round win. “Then I won a lot as soon as I started playing pro. It was kind of normal. It was normal to win tournaments, normal to win big matches and go far. I mean, it was incredible, of course, but it was more normal.

But now it's been so long, it's extra fun, it's extra special, for sure.”

She’s won a Grand Slam doubles title

AP Photo/Mike Fiala

After winning the U.S. Open and Australian Open junior titles at age 14, Lucic-Baroni then partnered with Martina Hingis in doubles at age 15. The pair won the Australian Open doubles title in 1998, beating Lindsay Davenport and Natasha Zvereva 6-4, 2-6, 6-3. With the title, Lucic-Baroni became youngest player in history to win a title at the Australian Open at the age of 15 years, 10 months and 21 days.

After her breakout as a teen, she suffered a series of personal and financial problems

By age 20, Lucic’s (the Baroni didn’t come until her 2011 marriage) success on the court came to a screeching halt. She disappeared from the tennis circuit for years, shortly after she accused her father and coach, Marinko, of mental and physical abuse while “grooming her for tennis stardom.” Lucic-Baroni was ranked No. 50 in the world on the eve of the 1998 U.S. Open when she fled Croatia to get away from her father and revealed the details of their relationship and accused Marinko and his nephew of stealing some of her prize money. Years later, financial troubles still burdened her attempts to reignite her tennis career. After financial problems restricted her play in the mid-2000s, she didn’t reappear on the WTA tour until 2010 and struggled with injuries. In 2014, she beat then-No. 2 Simona Halep in the third round at the U.S. Open and also at the 2015 French Open.

Her past, though painful, made her win on Wednesday in Melbourne that much sweeter.

She won her last match in Melbourne 19 years ago

After beating Pliskova on Wednesday, Lucic-Baroni dropped to the floor in disbelief. In her post-match interview with Rennae Stubbs, she reminded the Croatian vet that her first win at the Australian Open came 19 years ago—on January 19, 1988, Lucic defeated wildcard Stubbs 7-5, 6-1 in the first round. Watch the full interview below, it’s one of the best you’ll ever see.

Her husband owns Italian restaurants in Sarasota, Florida

Lucic got her second name after marrying her husband, Daniele Baroni, in 2011. But what you may not know is that Daniele owns two Italian restaurants in Sarasota, Fla., including Mediterraneo, a “causal but upscale” place serving “modern but classic Italian cuisine” and Cafe Epicure.

“I eat a lot there, yes,” Lucic-Baroni said, smiling. “The food is good. The food is very good. I eat there most of the time.”

Although she eats there often, Lucic-Baroni said she doesn’t serve tables or cook in the restaurants.

“I cook for my husband and with my husband a lot. We enjoy cooking a lot together, we do that a lot. But not in the restaurant,” she said. “I make probably the best or very good porcini risotto.”

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