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Mirjana Lucic-Baroni ends 18-year wait, enters Australian Open quarterfinal

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni beat American qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-2 at the Australian Open and will take on Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals. Pliskova beat Daria Gavrilova of Australia 6-3, 6-3 in her fourth round match.

tennis Updated: Jan 23, 2017 15:27 IST
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni,Jennifer Brady,Karolina Pliskova
Croatia's Mirjana Lucic-Baroni celebrates her win against Jennifer Brady of the US in the fourth round of the Australian Open on Monday.(AFP)

“Tough cookie” Mirjana Lucic-Baroni wound back the clock on Monday to make her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in 18 years, extending a stunning comeback for the former child prodigy. (Rafael Nadal vs Gael Monfils live updates and score)

The unseeded Croat last got this far at a major tournament at Wimbledon in 1999, where she lost to Steffi Graf, before personal problems and injuries derailed her career.

She now gets another crack at the last four after sweeping past American qualifier Jennifer Brady 6-4, 6-2 at the Australian Open, with Karolina Pliskova, who beat Daria Gavrilova of Australia 6-3, 6-3.

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“It’s pure joy. There’s no other feeling than bliss,” said Lucic-Baroni, who screeched with joy and jumped up and down to celebrate the win.

“I always said I have the game. But to work so hard and make so many sacrifices, I hope no one is going to pinch me and wake me up because this is just incredible.

“I am a tough little cookie and really stubborn, when I want something I will work hard and do anything I need to get it. What a satisfaction,” she added.

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The 34-year-old, who stunned third seed Agnieszka Radwanska in round two, made her debut at the US Open in 1997 aged just 15 and teamed with Martina Hingis to win the 1998 Australian Open women’s doubles.

In 1999, at 17, she went to the Wimbledon semifinals, but it all fell apart soon after as she was engulfed by heartbreaking personal issues.

In the background back then was tough, demanding father Marinko who, Lucic-Baroni later revealed, dished out regular beatings -- although he described them as “slaps” that were “best for the child”.

‘Rough patch’

Eventually Mirjana, her mother Andelka and four siblings fled their Croatia home in the dead of night for the sanctuary of the United States.

The drama, however, put the brakes on a journey which should have led to fame and fortune as financial problems forced her to put a career on a backburner.

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Lucic-Baroni disappeared from top-level tennis for most of the 2003-2010 period, before slowly working her way back via lower-tier tournaments.

“I had a rough patch in my life early on but I am really blessed with the family I have,” she said.

Asked what advice she would give to young players facing hardships, she replied: “I’m going to get fined but F everything, if there’s something you want to do, go and do it with your heart.”

“I’m not giving up, I’ve picked up a few more battle wounds but I’m pushing on,” she added.

Lucic-Baroni was a prodigy when the Williams sisters first began to make their mark in the 1990s. They too are also into the last eight at Melbourne Park with the Romanian on track to face Serena in the semifinals.

Despite the emotional rollercoaster, Lucic-Baroni said she was not ready to call it a day just yet.

“I’m clicked in, for sure. I’m calm and focused now,” she said. “The heart is a hundred percent, so that’s all that matters.”

First Published: Jan 23, 2017 15:27 IST