Mirjana Lucic-Baroni said the Australian Open has left her emotionally drained but she was proud of her astonishing, generation-bridging run to the semi-finals, which she capped with a selfie on court.
The 34-year-old’s dream tournament came to a crushing end at the hands of Serena Williams on Thursday, with the American a runaway 6-2, 6-1 winner in just 50 minutes.
Despite the loss, she made the most of her moment, grabbing a selfie on Rod Laver Arena as she soaked up applause for her achievement.
The former teenage prodigy’s last Grand Slam semi-final was 18 years ago in 1999, before serious personal problems derailed her career.
“It was just a beautiful moment. It was just something for me,” she said.
“I just want to have (it) in my phone. It’s just that moment, full crowd, packed court. It was really a very beautiful moment.”
The Croat emerged on the scene at the same time as the Williams sisters in the late 1990s, but tennis took a back seat when she was forced to flee her abusive father.
Her story has warmed the hearts of tennis fans as well as her opponents including Williams, who called her an inspiration.
Despite an injured leg that was heavily strapped, Lucic-Baroni also insisted on meeting her women’s doubles commitments, reaching the quarter-finals with Andrea Petkovic.
“It’s tough. I played 10 matches, I think, here. Crazy, every single day. I haven’t had a day off,” she said.
“Yesterday for sure, also emotionally it was quite draining. It was really incredible.”
“Physically, I mean, every day I played. It was difficult to heal the leg. It was difficult to do everything. But I don’t want to make it about that.”
She will now head back to her husband, Daniele, Aus$820,000 (US$620,000) better off, after earning more in one tournament than her entire pay from singles between 2000-2012.
Lucic-Baroni dropped out of top-level tennis for most of the 2003-2010 period after fleeing Croatia to the United States with her mother and siblings to escape her father.
Hitting the big-time again in Melbourne after so long in the wilderness has been a dream come true.
“I’m proud of myself. I had an incredible two weeks, singles, doubles. I played semi-finals of singles, quarters of doubles. I would sign for that every time, for sure,” she said.
And her amazing run in Melbourne has also fired her up to taste more success, and she is itching to get back on the practice court.
“I’m so motivated. My physio, everybody is telling me, every physio, ‘Okay, now you got to rest, fix the leg’.
“But I’m so excited to get on the practice court. Maybe not tomorrow, but a couple of days.
“This gives me so much motivation. Now I want to work even harder. I want to continue having success and playing well and enjoying this, keep going forward.”