50 Years, 50 Heroes: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 1997

by: Peter Bodo | December 14, 2018

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There’s no end to the kinds of people who might embrace Lucic-Baroni as an inspirational figure. (Getty Images)

For our sixth annual Heroes Issue, we’ve selected passages from the last 50 years of Tennis Magazine and TENNIS.com—starting in 1969 and ending in 2018—to highlight 50 worthy heroes. Each passage acknowledges the person as they were then; each subsequent story catches up with the person, or highlights their impact, as they are now. It is best summed up with a quote from the great Arthur Ashe, that was featured on the cover of the November/December issue of this magazine in 2015: “True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

Q: What goals do you have for the future?
A: The only goal for me is to play my best. I just love having the opportunity to compete.
 - Joel Drucker / November 1997

There’s no end to the kinds of people who might embrace Mirjana Lucic-Baroni as an inspirational figure: ambitious athletes in the 35-and over age group; those who believe that life can have a second or third act; former burnouts and—perhaps most important, the victims of abuse suffered at the hands of a loved one. In Lucic-Baroni’s case, a demanding father, Marinko.

During her spectacular youth, Lucic joined Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati as the only women to have won multiple Grand Slam junior singles before turning 15. She was 15 when she won the first pro tournament she entered, the 1997 Croatian Ladies’ Open, as well as the women’s doubles title at the 1998 Australian Open. In 1999, she upset Monica Seles and Nathalie Tauziat to reach the Wimbledon semifinals.

Then it all fell apart.

Tormented by personal problems, Lucic revealed the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, the victim of financial setbacks, just before the 1998 US Open. She continued to play on tour until the 2003 US Open, then took an extended hiatus, married Italian restaurateur Daniele Baroni and settled into a quiet life in Sarasota, FL. To that point, her career-high WTA singles ranking peaked at No. 32.

But Lucic-Baroni, a power baseliner in the Seles-Capriati mold, wasn’t finished in the limelight. She burst back onto the sports pages at the 2014 US Open, reaching the fourth round as a qualifier with upset wins over Garbine Muguruza and No. 2 seed Simona Halep. At her very next tournament in Quebec City, she defeated Venus Williams in the final. The win set a WTA record for the longest dry spell between titles: over 16 years. Three years later, Lucic-Baroni hit a new career-high singles ranking of No. 20.

“I feel like I’m 15 now. I’m 32, but I don’t feel like that,” Lucic-Baroni said after her win over Halep at Flushing Meadows. “My body is really great. I feel fit. I feel strong in my mind.

“I still have so much desire, so much to play for.”

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