MELBOURNE, Australia - The clock hasn't struck midnight on Mirjana Lucic-Baroni yet; in fact, the night may have only just begun for the 34-year-old Croat, who stunned No.5 seed Karolina Pliskova at the Australian Open, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal in 18 years.
"This is what I've been dreaming about,: she said in her post-match press conference. "This is what I've been training for. At 34 years old, like I said before, I have a wonderful home. I'm happily married. I would be perfectly okay being at home enjoying my family.
"But I really knew deep down in my soul that I have these results in me. To now be here and actually live these moments, it's incredible."
Lucic-Baroni was 17 years old when she blasted past the likes of Monica Seles and Nathalie Tauziat to push Stefanie Graf to three sets at the All England Club in 1999, but has had to overcome much since then, sidelined due to personal and financial issues for much of the ensuing decade.
"I go back and forth with it," she said when asked about whether she'd write a book detailing the trials of her twenties. "A part of it is I just want to say because people assume a lot, and people don't know. That irritates me when people assume things like injuries and things like that and people write about it. I understand it's your guys' job to write about it. A lot of it is speculation.
"At other times I really want to keep those things to myself, and I don't want to tell anybody anything, and I don't want to focus so much on that.
"I kind of want to be known as amazing fighter, a person who persevered against everything, against all odds. And that's what I take pride in."
She started from scratch and was back in the Top 100 by 2010, earning big wins over Simona Halep at two of three consecutive major tournaments in 2014 and 2015. Still, the upper echelons of the game that had once seemed assured eluded her until she arrived in Melbourne last week, blasting past No.3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska after winning her first Australian Open main draw match since 1998.
In Pliskova, she played a younger version of herself, whose big serve and groundstrokes helped her start the season by winning the Brisbane International and earn a career-high ranking of No.5 in the world.
None of that mattered on Wednesday, as Lucic-Baroni recovered from an early deficit to roar thorugh the opening set hitting 12 winners and dropping just four points behind her first serve.
"She was playing really well, hitting the ball really fast, just stepping up to the court and just going full power into my serve," Pliskova told press after the match. "I just cannot lose my serve so many times. When I didn't hit the first serve, she was pushing me, so I was just trying to hit the first serve. Then there was the sun on one side, so we were both losing the games in the third set on the right side, so it was kind of tough to serve from there.
"I think she handled all situations a little bit better than to me today, and was more aggressive, and that is why she won."
Pliskova appeared on the brink of elimination as she fell behind a break to start the second set, but pulled off a comeback reminiscent of her match against Jelena Ostapaneko in the third round to level the match and take necessary momentum into the decider.
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Lucic-Baroni proved undaunted, however, and despite a medical timeout after the seventh game, she emerged stronger than ever to win 12 of the final 13 points of the match to book her second major semifinal after an hour and 47 minutes on the court.
"I was just really thankful, really thankful to God that I was able to do this today, that I was able to finish my match," Lucic-Baroni said. "I was really worried. I was concerned. I didn't know if I had it in me to finish it.
"I started hurting pretty bad mid-match, especially towards the end. The fact that I was able to do it and so well at the end, I was really grateful."
By match's end, the veteran hit a spellbinding nine aces and 45 winners to 35 unforced errors, finishing with a positive differential for the third time in five matches - a testament to just how cleanly the big-hitter has been playing in Melbourne.
"I haven't had a day off in weeks. I don't know the last time I had a day off. I played every day singles and doubles.
"I'm going to be just fine. I'm going to recover, do some therapy, and I'll be fine. I'll just put some extra tapes on and hopefully it will hold me together. I'll fight hard. I'll be okay."
"Serena is our greatest champion, for sure, the greatest tennis player that ever played the game. So it's going to be incredibly tough. She is going to history. I'm sure she's going to be motivated to play well.
"And I'm just going to do my thing like I've done before ever other match. I'm going to recover and try to rest. I'm going to go out there with my heart and do the best that I can tomorrow."
Regardless of what happens on Thursday, Lucic-Baroni is tentatively set to crack the Top 30 for the first time in her career, perhaps a sign that the fairytale is far from over in 2017.
"It's just perseverance. It's just almost ignoring everything and just pushing forward and kind of going through the wall. It's not going but you keep pushing and you keep pushing, and nothing is working, and you keep pushing. That belief that eventually it will change.
"I think that's what perseverance is, and I feel like that's what helped me get here."
? #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 25, 2017