34-year-old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni blasted past qualifier Jennifer Brady to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in 18 years at the Australian Open.
WTA Staff

MELBOURNE, Australia - In a battle of feel-good stories, unseeded and looming Mirjana Lucic-Baroni bested American qualifier Jennifer Brady, 6-4, 6-2, to roll into the quarterfinals of the Australian Open - her best major result since the 1999 Wimbledon Championships.

Lucic-Baroni was a highly touted prospect as a teenager, rising up the rankings at the same time as the Williams sisters, Martina Hingis, and Anna Kournikova. She won her first WTA title in her main draw debut and won the women's doubles title in Melbourne with Hingis in 1998.

What followed was nearly a decade of trials and tribulations as the Croat was forced off the tour due to a combination of physical and financial issues stemming from her decision to sever ties with her father. Slowly working her way back onto the WTA circuit, Lucic-Baroni has become a dangerous floater at Grand Slam tournaments, earning wins over Simona Halep in a pair of major upsets in 2014 and 2015.

"It feel so much better now [to reach the quarterfinals]. It's incredible now," Lucic-Baroni said in her press conference. "I mean, back when I was a teenager it was kind of expected of me and it was normal. I won a lot as a junior. Then I won a lot as soon as I started playing pro. It was kind of normal.

"It was normal to win tournaments, normal to win big matches and go far. I mean, it was incredible, of course, but it was more normal. But now it's been so long, it's extra fun, it's extra special, for sure."

She began her 2017 Australian Open campaign by winning her first main draw match Down Under in 19 years; it only got better in the next round when she beat former World No.2 and two-time semifinalist Agnieszka Radwanska.

Standing between her and her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in nearly two decades was Jennifer Brady, a former college player at UCLA who eased into the second week after three wins in qualifying and saving five match points to beat Heather Watson 10-8 in the third.

But Brady had no answers to the effortless power emanating from Lucic-Baroni's racquet. The Croat veteran was in fine form on Monday, hitting a whopping 35 winners to just 24 unforced errors, and dropping just six points on her first serve to defeat the American in one hour and 10 minutes.

"I didn't even have a chance to look at any of her matches on video. So I kind of just asked around. My coach watched a bit. It's strange. Until you go on court and actually feel somebody else's ball, it's different," Luci-Baroni added.

"I thought she started really well in the beginning. She was handling the pace. She was doing pretty good. But I knew if I just keep pressing that I was going to get a step ahead. I was able to do that."

Up next for Lucic-Baroni is No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova.