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The Strange, Wonderful Story Of The Tennis Player The World Forgot

'This has truly made my life. It has made it OK.'

25/01/2017 2:44 PM AEDT | Updated 25/01/2017 2:51 PM AEDT
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'This has truly made my life. It has made it OK.'

The impossible story has another chapter. Thirty-four year-old Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni won her Australian Open quarter final against Czeck Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

And with that, she was into her first grand slam semi since 1999.

Immediately after winning, Lucic-Baroni crossed herself, slumped to the ground, held the pose for 10, maybe 20 seconds. And then she cried.

Whoever wins this tournament -- and it may yet be Lucic-Baroni herself -- is unlikely to show such heartfelt emotion in the moment of victory. But you can understand it, because Lucic-Baroni has a back story like no other player.

A quick refresher/cheat sheet for those of you who are late to the party:

  • Lucic-Baroni was a teen tennis prodigy who won the Australian Open doubles when she was just 15, and made the Wimbledon singles semis when she was 16;
  • This was in the 1990s. Yes, this remarkable tennis survivor first became a star when the Y2K was a thing we all worried about;
  • Just before her Wimbledon run, she had fled her country for America, claiming she had been abused by her father. She fled her sport soon afterwards;
  • Lucic-Baroni alluded to all that after her win on Wednesday, saying "one day I will say a long big story about things that happened to me".

The Croatian said a lot of interesting things in a fascinating post-match exchange with Channel 7's Rennae Stubbs. The first bit was great. Stubbs pointed out that Lucic-Baroni's first win at Melbourne Park 19 years ago had been against none other than herself.

Cameron Spencer via Getty Images
Watch this interview if you get a chance, it was great stuff.

Everyone got a laugh out of that one. They had also gotten their comedy fill after Lucic-Baroni's fourth round match, when she said: "F--- everything and everybody who ever tells you you can't do it. Just show up and do it with your heart." (The quote is around the one minute mark of this video.)

But things got teary again after the hard-fought quarter final, as you suspected they would.

"It means a lot to every player to reach the semis, but to me this is overwhelming. I will never, ever forget this day," she said.

Then came the clincher that made everybody reach for the tissues.

"This has truly made my life...it has made it okay." #LucicBaroni #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/SeE9ePoqOo

This was a tough match. Lucic-Baroni came into this match ranked 79 in the world, and won the first set against Pliskova, ranked number 5. But the Czech fought back.

It was one of those matches you could have on in the background at work and be pretty sure the scores would be locked at 3-3 or something similar even if you only kept half an eye on the telly or your hand-held device.

But just as the third set seemed to be heading into overtime (there are no deciding set tiebreakers at the Australian Open), Lucic-Baroni played three games of flawless tennis and that was that. A hold to love. An easy service break. Another comfortable service game to close out the match.

Clive Brunskill via Getty Images
So it'll be the battle of 35-year-olds Mirjana and Serena in the semis.

Pliskova is 10 years the junior of Lucic-Baroni. In the end, the elder's experience showed.

"I felt extreme calm. I didn't have one worry," everyone's new favourite player said. "I felt extreme peace, calm and I just went after my shots."

And she made the shots. True to her own advice, she just showed up and did it with her effing heart. Whether that works against Serena Williams in the upcoming semi final remains to be seen.

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