Welcome to Florida Week! As the tours head southeast for the Miami Open, TENNIS.com and Baseline will feature all things Sunshine State. You’ll learn about the personalities, stories, teams and venues that have made Florida one of the tennis capitals of the world. We’ll also be reporting from the Miami Open in Key Biscayne.
As you’ll learn this week, when it comes to tennis, Florida isn’t just a state—it’s a state of mind.
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla.—Mirjana Lucic-Baroni has played a lot of matches in her 20-year career, and has used up as many second lives as seemingly possible. The 35-year-old used one again on Thursday, coming back from the brink against Kateryna Bondarenko to reach the Miami Open third round, 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (2).
Playing on a relatively obscure Court 8, the world No. 29 had to stay calm and fight back from what appeared to be an insurmountable deficit in the third.
“It was a bit up and down for sure,” Lucic-Baroni said. “I didn't feel that I played that great … All of a sudden, at 5-1 in the third set, it was either wake up or go home.”
With her extremely flat, go-for-broke ground strokes and desire to stay on top of the baseline, Lucic-Baroni takes a lot of risks, and has to weather her own storms more than her opponent’s. She dictates play and she dictates the rhythm of the match, even when it starts slipping away from her.
“I was first really annoyed with myself that I was in that situation, because I feel that I'm in good form and I feel that I'm playing really well,” Lucic-Baroni said. “…I knew that I could come back. I’m always a tough fighter and I try to play one point at a time, and I believed I could come back.”
The Croatian’s story has been told before. Starting her career as a prodigy, she racked up some “youngest ever” records by winning the first WTA tournament she appeared in—in Bol—and becoming the youngest-ever doubles major champion in Australia in 1998 (with Martina Hingis). She also slammed her way to the Wimbledon semifinals in 1999 as a 17-year-old.
She’s now enjoying what is literally a second career, returning to the tour (or International Tennis Federation Pro Circuit) for good in 2008 after financial and personal problems with her father pushed her away from competition for four years. She would then spend most of the next decade on the ITF Pro Circuit.
“I was very much focused on tennis, still,” Lucic-Baroni said about the gap in her career. “I trained normally. I trained with my brothers. I didn't have a coach at the time. I knew sooner or later something was going to come, opportunities were going to show up.
“Luckily I’m strong enough and stubborn enough, and patient enough, that I was waiting for my opportunities. That's why I’m here at 35.”
By 2014, Lucic-Baroni was competing more on the WTA tour than the ITF Circuit, and she re-announced herself to the top tier by stunning Venus Williams in the Quebec City final. Now she was setting new records, including one for the biggest gap between titles (16 years).