Croatia's Mirjana Lucic-Baroni's stunning run at the Australian Open continues. The world number 79 left professional tennis for a few years due to an abusive father which made her quit tennis. Furthermore, on the biggest stage in the Rod Laver Arena, Lucic-Baroni upset last year's US Open runner-up and fifth seed Karolina Pliskova in three sets.
Lucic-Baroni's victory over Pliskova means for the first time since Wimbledon in 1999, she has advanced to a Grand Slam semifinal, which is a remarkable achievement for the former top 35 player.
Lucic-Baroni takes the opening set in style
The world number 79 upset two-time semifinalist and third seed Agnieszka Radwanska in a clinical performance in the second round. The Croatia native won the coin toss and elected to serve, she held serve in the opening game, and Pliskova followed suit in the following game but had to save a break point with an ace out wide.
Furthermore, in the following game, Lucic-Baroni stretched out to a comfortable 30-0 lead, however, three unforced errors quickly followed giving Pliskova a chance to break. The Croat saved it, however, a backhand return winner down the line created a second break point opportunity clinching it by virtue of an unforced error from the Croat to lead 2-1.
The fifth seed consolidated the break leading 3-1, despite dropping the opening point on serve, the 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist held serve to 15 with a forehand winner down the line in a five-shot rally. Pliskova intended to extend her lead but she remained troubled on her to serve with Lucic-Baroni becoming aggressive on Pliskova's serve. More unforced errors sprung from the Czech's racquet allowing Lucic-Baroni to level the match at 3-3.
The Croat won her third consecutive game against Pliskova with an easy service game to lead 4-3. Last year's US Open runner-up was looking to stop the rot, racing out to a 30-0 lead, however, the 34-year-old applied pressure on Pliskova with two good returns drawing the error. Moreover, an ace down the tee and a good serve drawing the unforced error from Lucic-Baroni leveled the game at 4-4.
The serving continued to flow easily from the world number 79, consolidating the game with a forehand winner in the corner to lead 5-4. Pliskova was serving to stay in the opening set but she struggled, quickly going down 0-40, one set point was saved with a unforced error in a four-shot rally and another forehand unforced error from Pliskova, handed Lucic-Baroni the opening set, 6-4 in 32 minutes.
Pliskova fights back and sends the match to a final set
Alarm bells starting to ring for the fifth seed as Lucic-Baroni carried on serving well to lead 1-0, and on her service game, two crosscourt winners down the line handed a break point chance for the Croat. The 34-year-old immediately took the break to lead 2-0, winning her fourth consecutive game in the process.
On the other hand, Lucic-Baroni had the finishing line in sight with the Croat blinking and committed three consecutive unforced errors in a row, the Croat saved one with a forehand winner down the line but a seven-shot rally ended with a backhand going long from the Croat's racquet, handed the break back for Pliskova.
The fifth seed received a medical time out on her right foot getting some more strapping added to it. Both players continued to hit the ball hard but a backhand error from Lucic-Baroni allowed Pliskova to level the game at 2-2. The pendulum began to swing with unforced errors spewing from the Croat's game, who was confident in the opening set. Pliskova knew how important this game was and she broke Lucic-Baroni's serve to lead 3-2. However, Lucic-Baroni stopped the rot with Pliskova herself committing unforced errors, surrendering the break and leveling the second set at 3-3.
The duo would be locked into a tussle in the seventh game in the second set with Lucic-Baroni winning the first point with a backhand unforced error out wide. However, Pliskova would win the next two points with a forehand winner down the line after a four-shot rally and an unforced error from the Croat. The Czech would get a break point by virtue of a double fault which was quickly snuffed out with an ace down the tee, however, an unforced error, followed by a shocking smash unforced error in the net, allowed Pliskova to break and lead 4-3.
Last year's US Open finalist usually has her emotions in check but she was animated letting out a roar after a 5-shot rally and backhand winner in the corner to lead 30-15. The fifth seed would consolidate the break and lead 5-3 with a forehand winner down the line.
A flawless, Pliskova took the second set to love with a backhand return winner down the line, followed by Lucic-Baroni's double fault, a forehand unforced error out wide and a forehand return winner down the line to clinch the second set, 6-3 in 36 minutes.
Lucic-Baroni advances to her first Grand Slam semifinal since 1999
In the opening game of the final set, the big-serving Czech had a game point at 40-30 but a volley winner at the net, followed by a backhand winner down the line from the 34-year-old handed her a break point. Pliskova saved it with a service winner down the middle, however, Lucic-Baroni would create a second chance to break with a forehand winner in the corner. A good return drawing the error from Pliskova gave Lucic-Baroni the decisive break to lead 1-0.
Once again, Lucic-Baroni was unable to consolidate the break, and Pliskova broke back to 15 by virtue of two back-to-back double faults and a forehand unforced error out wide, restored parity at 1-1. For the third consecutive game, there was a break of serve with Lucic-Baroni regaining the initiative leading 2-1. The Croatia native started the following game with intent with two forehand winners and she punished the Czech's short ball in a five-shot rally with a forehand winner. A backhand unforced error allowed Lucic-Baroni to consolidate the break and lead 3-1 in the final set.
Surprisingly, Pliskova was struggling with her serve but in the fifth game, she had a one-two combo good serve followed by a backhand winner. The Czech would win the next point with a first serve, returned at her and a backhand winner behind Lucic-Baroni. The fifth seed ensured that the break was only one, sealing the game with an ace out wide.
An easy service game, allowed Pliskova to relax as the world number 79 went down 0-40 on her serve, she would save the first two break points that she faced with an ace down the tee and a forehand unforced error from Pliskova, only delayed the inevitable with a backhand unforced error in the net from Lucic-Baroni getting the crucial set levelled at 3-3.
The fifth seed took the lead in the final set for the first time leading 4-3 with a quick service game to 15. However, Lucic-Baroni received a medical timeout for more strapping on her leg. The pendulum swung once again as the Croat served out three aces in the game holding to love. The match was evenly poised at 4-4 but there was a decisive break from the Croat winning eight consecutive points to serve for the match, leading 5-4.
Lucic-Baroni was in a position to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal since Wimbledon in 1999, she split the first two points with Pliskova, and the Croat would send an ace down the tee, followed by a forehand unforced error in the net from Pliskova, giving the Croat two match points. The 34-year-old took the match point at the first time of asking by virtue of a forehand unforced error from Pliskova to win the match, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in an hour and 47 minutes.
Both players had joy on their serves with Lucic-Baroni dishing out nine aces to Pliskova's nine. Pliskova only managed to get 58 percent of her first serves in winning 55 percent of the points on it. Lucic-Baroni would get 56 percent of her first serves in and won 70 percent of the points on her first serve. Lucic-Baroni produced a staggering 42 winners to 35 unforced errors. The fifth seed, in contrast, produced 23 winners and committed 21 unforced errors.
A second Grand Slam semifinal to look forward to
At 34-year-old's with the adversity, she's had faced in her personal life. Lucic-Baroni will be competing in her second Grand Slam semifinal, and she will be playing the six-time Australian Open champion second seed Serena Williams for a spot in Saturday's final, where the winner of the semifinal will play 13th seed Venus Williams or Coco Vandeweghe.