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Wednesday 25 January 2017 10:50 AM GMT
Lucic-Baroni writing Australian fairy tale
In a tournament of comebacks, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni's is proving to be the most heartwarming... READ MORE

When the story of Mirjana Lucic-Baroni’s roller-coaster life is eventually made into a film, as surely it will be, the Croatian knows who should be cast in the starring role.

“Somebody who has a nice, large nose, probably,” the 34-year-old said, with a laugh.

An incredible 18 years after she first reached a Grand Slam semi-final – at Wimbledon – Lucic-Baroni upset fifth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to reach the last four in Melbourne. 

Falling to her knees after her victory, Lucic-Baroni said she could not believe what she had achieved. “This is crazy,” she said. “I am in a little shock."

Few people in any sport have experienced the highs and lows that Lucic-Baroni has been through, since she burst onto the scene as a 15-year-old when she won the women’s doubles title at the Australian Open in 1998.

A semi-finalist at Wimbledon the following year, the hard-hitting Croatian looked to have the game to reach the top, but off-court problems kept her off the Tour for several years. This time, she said, was much more satisfying than the first.

“It's incredibly special, especially since it's been so long since the last time I've been in semi-finals,” she said. “And the struggle has been so much bigger and nobody in this world thought I could ever be here again, beside my closest family, my coach, and my brothers, my sisters, my husband, my mum. Beside my little circle, I don't think anybody believed that I could do it. And it's really fun.

“It's fun to prove everybody wrong, and it's fun to enjoy this for myself and live these incredible moments. It's more special this time, for sure.”

Lucic-Baroni said on court after her win over Pliskova that at some stage she will tell everyone her life story.

“A part of it I just want to say because people assume a lot, and people don't know,” she said, later. “That irritates me when people assume things like injuries and things like that and people write about it. A lot of it is speculation.

“At other times I really want to keep those things to myself and I don't want to tell anybody anything, and I don't want to focus so much on that. I kind of want to be known as amazing fighter, a person who persevered against everything, against all odds. And that's what I take pride in. We will see.”

The run to the semi-finals of 36-year-old Venus Williams is equally impressive because of her continued battle against Sjogren’s syndrome, an illness which causes chronic fatigue. 

But Lucic-Baroni’s battles have hit an emotional chord in Melbourne and after so long out of the limelight, she is relishing being back in it.

“I felt like these results were missing, for sure,” she said. “This is what I've been dreaming about, this is what I've been training for. At 34 years old, I have a wonderful home. I'm happily married.

"I would be perfectly OK being at home enjoying my family. But I really knew deep down in my soul that I have these results in me. To now be here and actually live these moments, it's incredible.”

Her semi-final opponent will be Serena Williams, the six-time champion, who beat Johanna Konta 6-2, 6-3. Williams, who played Lucic-Baroni twice in 1998, said her performance and perseverance was an inspiration to everyone.

“I'm really happy for Mirjana,” she said. “I was there when she first started. To see her be able to never give up actually is super inspiring to me. It's a wonderful story.”

If she somehow manages to beat Williams in the semi-finals on Thursday, it would be the biggest story of the lot.

“She's a great champion,” Lucic-Baroni said. “I'm not bad myself. I think it will be a good match. I will work hard, I will fight hard and we'll see. Hopefully it will be fun.”

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