She’s been to hell and back and now Mirjana Lucic-Baroni is in tennis heaven after dumping third seed Simona Halep from the French Open in the tournament’s biggest upset yet.
The 33-year-old beat last year’s runner-up 7-5 6-1 on Wednesday to reach the third round for the first time since 2001, an age ago and before Lucic-Baroni fell victim to an abusive father and other family and financial problems.
“It doesn’t get better than this,” said the former teenage prodigy who was earmarked for superstardom before her career was stopped in its tracks.
“Moments like this, like today, it’s just so amazing – a full court playing against one of the best tennis players in the world and winning.”
As a junior, Lucic-Baroni won the girls’ singles at the 1996 US Open and 1997 Australian Open, joining Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati as the only players in the open era to capture two junior grand slam singles titles by the age of 14.
She turned professional at 15 and won her very first WTA Tour event, then lost her second in the final to Steffi Graf.
“I was not nearly as good as she is at 15,” Graf marvelled at the time.
Lucic-Baroni continued setting all sorts of records before her world came crashing down.
The Croatian didn’t contest a grand slam for eight years before making a comeback in 2010.
Not even an extraordinary loss from a set and 5-0 up against Madison Keys last week in Strasbourg can dampen her spirit these days.
“I really do love this game,” Lucic-Baroni said.
“Even though I lost, I had a couple of glasses of wine that night. I knew I am playing good tennis, so I said, `Okay, fine’. Maybe it’s the French wine.”
Ranked 70th in the world, Lucic-Baroni also took out Halep at last year’s US Open and her latest triumph propelled the veteran into a meeting with local hope Alize Cornet, the 29th seed who beat Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru 6-2 7-5.
Halep’s shock exit opens up the bottom half of the draw for the winner of Friday’s showdown between Australia’s 26th seed Samantha Stosur and Russian titleholder Maria Sharapova.
Stosur advanced to the last 32 for the seventh straight year with a 6-0 6-1 pummelling of French qualifier Amandine Hesse, while Sharapova ousted compatriot Vitalia Diatchenko 6-3 6-1.
Halep, who required treatment on her right hand towards the end of the first set, is the second top-10 casualty this week after sixth seed Eugenie Bouchard was knocked out in the first round on Tuesday.
Seventh-seeded former champion Ana Ivanovic wasn’t far from following the pair out the Roland Garros exit gates.
The Serb battled back to beat Misaki Doi 3-6 6-3 6-4, while there were wins also for Russian ninth seed Ekaterina Makarova and Spanish eighth seed Carla Suarez Navarro.