Often we hear stories of how people battle struggles and obstacles in their life and emerge winners. Croatian tennis veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni’s story is no different. Her extraordinary comeback in the Australian Open semi-finals, when she defeated fifth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4 3-6 6-4 at Rod Laver Arena is inspiring.
Who is Mirjana Lucic-Baroni?
Baroni is a Croatian tennis player who started playing tennis at age four by hiding in the car when her older sister went to tennis classes and then sneaking into the lessons herself. She enjoyed a promising career on the WTA Tour in the late 1990s, during which she set several “youngest-ever” records.
As a junior player, she won:
- The girls’ singles title at the US Open in 1996
- The girls’ singles and doubles crowns at the Australian Open in 1997, becoming the third player in the Open Era to win two junior Grand Slam singles titles before her 15th.
- She defeated Monica Seles the Wimbledon semi-finals back in 1998,
- She also beat 1998 Wimbledon finalist Nathalie Tauziat in the quarterfinals
- Won the doubles title aged 15 alongside near-contemporary Martina Hingis, to win the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo
- Lucic defended her singles title at Bol in 1998, becoming the youngest player ever to defend a tour title at age 16 years
- She also finished runner-up in the 1998 mixed doubles event at Wimbledon, partnering with Mahesh Bhupathi.
- In 1999, Lucic achieved her career-best Grand Slam singles performance when she reached the semifinals at Wimbledon falling to Steffi Graf.
Struggles and Obstacles
Lucic-Baroni was suffering mental and physical abuse at the hands of her father, and she had fled from Croatia to Florida with her mother and four siblings to escape. This was followed by the disintegration of her tennis career. The Croat’s ranking fell below 100 within a year of her Wimbledon success, and she quit the sport between 2003 and 2007, playing just two matches in 2004, 2005, and 2006 seasons combined. She was also involved in a legal battle with her former management company IMG over loan issues which remain unresolved .
Rise of the Phoenix
But in 2006, she pledged never to give up her dream and that, despite her father’s alleged abuse she would return to top-level tennis. She married Daniele Baroci in 2011. It has taken her a good ten years, but now, it looks like Lucic-Baroni is here to stay.
After defeating Jennifer Brady in the quarter-final, in the Australian Open semi-final, the 34-year-old mentioned her past struggles and went on to say, “Well, people think they know a lot about my history, but they do not. One day when I feel like talking about it, I will. Right now is not that day. But people think they know. They have no idea. A lot of the times when I hear, like, injuries and things, those were not the problems at all.”
She said this victory meant “pure joy. There’s no other feeling than bliss.”
On Wednesday she defeated Karolina Pliskova to enter a semi-final against the second-seeded multi-Slam winner Serena Williams. On this victory, she jumped in glee and fell on her knees sobbing on the court.
In an emotional interview, Lucic-Baroni said, “I know this means a lot to every player to reach the semi-finals but to me this is overwhelming. I will never, ever forget this day or the last couple of weeks. This has truly made my life. And everything bad that happened, it has made it OK.”
“Just the fact that I was this strong and that it was worth fighting for, it’s really incredible.”
Crediting her victory to God, she said, “All I can say is God is good. I’m in the semi-finals again. I’m a little bit in shock right now”.
“One day I will say a long, big story about things that happened to me but I never could dream of being here again.”
The white strapping around Lucic’s right thigh and calf depicted the physical toll and the odds that she must have persevered to reach this win.
No abuse is right abuse- be it mental or physical. It destroys you at an unimaginable level, especially when it comes from someone who is your own. The most difficult thing is to accept it, to escape it, and to admit it. The real courage is to overcome the demons of your past and to persevere and shine through it. It’s similar to being defeated in a sports match. But a real sportsman puts the loss behind them, looking forward to the next game, only focussing on victory. That’s the characteristic of a true athlete. And Lucic-Baroni just proved her sporting spirit and gave us some life goals to follow.
Her advice to anyone who was having a difficult time:
After her match with Brady, she said she is a “tough little cookie” when asked how she had managed to overcome the obstacles in her life. “I’m really stubborn and when I want something I’ll work really hard and do whatever it takes to get it!”
“I will tell it to anyone struggling out there. F… everything and everybody, whoever says you can’t do it. Just show up and do it with your heart,” Lucic-Baroni responded to the interviewer to the delight of the crowd.
Lucic-Baroni was quoted in the New York Times this week as saying: “I had a choice to cave or to grow and blossom from it. I took the latter choice, and I’m very proud of myself and my family, that we got away from that. I didn’t let it destroy me. It was difficult, sure, but I believe you have a choice in everything. You either pick yourself up by the bootstraps, and you move on and become stronger from your experiences. Or you falter.”
“It was really difficult in the beginning when I started again, because I felt like I belonged somewhere at the top, and I wasn’t there. I was fighting hard, clawing my way back. This also taught me a lot, all these years coming back. Now, I’m really at peace with where I am in my life, where I am in my career. I think it probably does show a little bit on the court as well.”
She credited her recent success to her support from her coach, her physio, her family and friends!
Everyone has a story, and we love the way this champ is rewriting hers. We wish her all the best in her final match with Serena Williams tomorrow. Regardless of the outcome, we know that Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has already won at life!