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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the other quarter-final, Serena Williams is through to her eighth semifinal at Melbourne Park after a 6-2 6-3 domination of world No.9 Johanna Konta.
Serena goes into the semifinal having never being defeated at that stage of the Australian Open, along with claiming her first meeting with the Brit.
The opening set of the match began with the pair both holding serve relatively comfortably, before Serena jumped at Konta’s next service game and broke the Sydney champion on her way to a dominant first set.
The second began ominously for Konta, as she was down 0-40 on her opening service game before roaring back to save it and break Serena’s serve in the next game before opening up a 3-1 lead.
However that was as good as it would get for the Brit as the 22-time Grand Slam champion ran away with the next five games of the match to storm through to the semifinals.
She will meet world No.79 Mirjana Lucic-Baroni on Thursday and holds a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over the Croatian, but both of their meetings were in 1998.