Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Lucic-Baroni gains first major semifinal in 18 years

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, playing in last year's U.S. Open, has
overcome a turbulent past to reach the Australian Open semi-
finals at age 34. Photo by Paul Bauman
   The last time Mirjana Lucic-Baroni reached a Grand Slam semifinal, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky dominated the news.
   Eighteen years later, Lucic-Baroni did it for the second time. She surprised fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, the U.S. Open runner-up last September, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 today in the Australian Open in Melbourne.
   Pliskova, the Brisbane champion in the first week of January, had won nine consecutive matches.
   After today's upset, the 79th-ranked Lucic-Baroni kneeled on the court and sobbed. She then broke down during her on-court interview with Rennae Stubbs.
   "I know this means a lot to every player to reach the semifinals, but to me, this is overwhelming," said Lucic-Baroni, a 34-year-old Croat who knocked off third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round. "I will never, ever, ever forget this day or the last couple of weeks.
   "This has truly made my life and everything bad that happened OK. Just the fact that I was this strong and that it was worth fighting for, it's really incredible."
   As a teenager, Lucic-Baroni was a prodigy along with Martina Hingis and Venus Williams. Lucic-Baroni became the youngest player to win an Australian Open title when she took the 1998 women's doubles crown at 15 years, 10 months with Hingis. At 17, Lucic-Baroni defeated Monica Seles en route to the Wimbledon semifinals in 1999.
   But Lucic-Baroni's career was derailed by problems with her father, who she has said physically abused her and tampered with her prize money. From 2003 through 2009, she did not play in a Grand Slam tournament.
   "There have been more beatings than anyone can imagine," Lucic-Baroni once said.
   Countered Marinko Lucic at the time: "I never used excessive force, and if I did give her the occasional slap, it was because of her behavior. I did what I believed was best for the child."    
   Lucic-Baroni has not advanced past the first round in seven appearances in the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford. She will face No. 2 seed and six-time Australian Open champion Serena Williams in the second semifinal on Wednesday night (California time) on ESPN2.
   Williams, seeking an Open Era-record 23rd major singles title, dismissed No. 9 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain 6-2, 6-3 in their first meeting. Williams and Konta have won four of the last six Bank of the West titles between them.
   Williams is 2-0 against Lucic-Baroni, but they have not met since 1998.
   In the first semifinal at 7 p.m., No. 12 Venus Williams will play unseeded fellow American CoCo Vandeweghe. Williams won their only meeting 6-4, 6-3 in the first round of last year's Italian Open in Rome on clay.
   No. 4 Stan Warwinka will take on No. 17 Roger Federer in an all-Swiss men's semifinal on Thursday at 12:30 a.m. (ESPN). Federer, who missed the last six months of 2016 with a knee injury, leads the head-to-head series 18-3.
   In the other men's semifinal, No. 9 Rafael Nadal will face No. 15 Grigor Dimitrov on Friday at 12:30 a.m.
   Nadal topped No. 3 Milos Raonic 6-4, 7-6 (7), 6-4 to reach his first Grand Slam semifinal since he won the 2014 French Open for his 14th major singles title.
   Dimitrov, nicknamed "Baby Fed" because his playing style is similar to Federer's, dismissed No. 11 David Goffin 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 to gain his second Grand Slam semifinal.
   Nadal is 7-1 against Dimitrov, who won the last meeting 6-2, 6-4 in the Beijing quarterfinals last October on an outdoor hardcourt.

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