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An Interview With: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni

Friday, August 29, 2014

Q. It's nice to have you back in this room.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Thank you so much. It's been a little while.

Q. Just talk about knocking off the No. 2 seed. It's a great accomplishment. Talk about your form of late.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: I mean, it's amazing. I finally been able to play the tennis that I love the way I love to play. You know, being really aggressive and consistent at the same time. Yeah, I mean, I keep playing better and better each round. Today was against one of the best players in the world. She's amazing. I expected a really tough match. I didn't think about anything except following the tactics and playing the way I was supposed to play. I was able to do that; it's incredible.

Q. Just looking at how you were playing going up to qualifying, there was no way to think you'd be able to come here and do this. What have you found since you obviously started hitting your stride in the qualifying phase and getting better and better every round here?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Well, I mean, until you make consistent results nobody know how hard you working, nobody knows what you're doing. I have been putting in the hours all these years, but, you know, I always end up battling few injuries. Started playing better in Doha. I got injury and another injury and all these things. Until you make results, it looks like you're kind of half there. I have been working really hard. And now finally being able to do it consistently, it's starting to show in results. Yeah, so it feels great finally.

Q. What were those injuries?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Earlier in Doha, my back just blocked, gave in. I was in excruciating pain. I couldn't finish my match. Then in Indian Wells I got a herniated disc in my neck. That made huge problems for my shoulder. Before Wimbledon I couldn't play for a week. It's been one thing after another, and then again after Wimbledon I didn't play for three weeks. So, yeah, this summer my preparation was just playing matches and, you know, playing in tournaments and kind of getting through all these little things. Finally, you know, getting some confidence here winning some matches.

Q. Is that what you meant by every painful movement is so worth it, or did you mean something else?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: I mean, everything. Every thankful moment on the court, you know, that you run your butt off until you can't breathe. Then you do some more. You do that day in and day out. Today, you know, after five matches, however many matches I played so far, you know, I was still able to -- six? I'm still able to move great and feel great physically and strong. So, yeah, I'm so happy.

Q. I know this is difficult, but if you had to sum up your personal journey at this point, how would you recap it for us?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Well, that's not an easy questions.

Q. I know it's not.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Well, I mean, I'm a little bit emotional now. Sorry. (Crying.) It's been really hard. Sorry. After so many years to be here again, it's incredible. I wanted this so bad. So many times I would get to, you know, a place where I could do it. Then I wanted it so bad that I'm kind of burned out. And I apologize again. Yeah, I'm so happy.

Q. How difficult was it to control those emotions when it came time to serve out the match?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: It was really easy. Right now it's hard (laughter). I was really good. I was so good on the court. You know, I knew what I had to do and I was able to do it. And then just after it's been -- whew, it's been really tough. Talking about it is really tough. You know, it's surprising to be here in a way because it's been so long. But I worked so hard for this. I knew what I had to do, and I was able to do that on the tennis court, which is, yeah, amazing.

Q. It's only been 15 years since you got to the second week of a slam. It's not that long.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: I know, right? I feel good about the fact I'm 32 and I'm still here. After so many matches I feel fit. I feel strong. I still have a few years to catch up to Kimiko, so I'm good.

Q. Yeah, you'll be 47 the next time we are expecting...

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Yeah, no, don't even say that.

Q. In the first set you were down 5-2, two set points. What were you thinking at that point, and did you pull it out of the socket or did she sort of give you an opening? You really went for every shot.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Even the first games in the set, they were really tight. She just happened to win them all. Even though it was 5-2 and it looks like it's kind of, you know, going one way, I felt like all the games were really close. I just kept doing what I felt like I needed to do: playing aggressive and taking the ball early. I thought, Okay, even if I lose this set I'm going to continue playing this way. It's going to turn around. I'm just happy I was able to do that in the first set.

Q. Seemed like you were really focusing on your return game. Very aggressive.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Yeah, it's always been a part of my game. It's always been the way I play. It's just really fun for me now to do it consistently. And, yeah, I'm having a great time.

Q. What are you going to remember about your last fourth-round Grand Slam run 15 years ago?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: It was a long time ago. I mean, I remember it was really exciting, but back then it was so normal. I was so young and I was so good and I was winning so much that it wasn't -- even though it's exciting, it wasn't really a big deal. It was just a natural progression. And now it's just amazing. Every round is amazing. Every round I look forward to. I mean, in a way I know I sound like and I feel like a little kid, like this is the first time ever happening. I don't know, I love the feeling. I'm really happy.

Q. Do you see it as sort of two different careers?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Yeah. I mean, in a way, yeah. Obviously you could say that after a long break this definitely looks like a second career. But, yeah. I missed it when I didn't play and I still enjoy it now.

Q. What were you doing when you didn't play? And how serious was the financial situation?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Well, I mean, it's really uncomfortable for me to talk about it. Obviously that was the main reason why I didn't play. It wasn't any lack of desire or anything. It's just circumstances were such. Yeah, I still played with my brothers a lot. I was still in tennis a lot. I was still, you know, waiting for my opportunities and things like that.

Q. Did you keep believing that your opportunities would come at some point?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: I did. I mean, you know, it's difficult not to, you know. I kept working hard still and was still involved in tennis. I was still around. I trained still just the same. But, yeah, I had to wait a little longer.

Q. You mentioned back then Grand Slam, going through the fourth round. I'm assume that you 17 year old self figured there would be many more soon just like that.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: I don't understand your question.

Q. When you were a teenager, you're in the fourth round. At the time did you probably think, Oh, I'm going to keep doing this?


Q. It's going to happen next year and next year. You never could have thought it would be 15 years till you'd be back.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: No, definitely. I think that's one of the reasons last couple of years when I finally did come back again and fought my way through really, really tough -- I didn't get wildcards. Didn't get to play, you know, just pick nice events and play. I played quallies of every not-awesome 25 there is everywhere in the world. I worked my way back and I earned it. Then when I got to the stage, you know, to the Grand Slams, I wanted it so bad that when I would get my chance on a big court against a big player I wanted it so bad that I kind of was paralyzed. I couldn't do it. It was always like, Okay, how many more do I have? I have to do it now. I have to do it now. I finally relaxed I said, Just play tennis.

Q. Any of those sort of old memories come back when you were watching Catherine Bellis this week, the fact she was doing so well so young?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Yeah. I was watching her last night. It was kind of cute. I was remembering -- it was a little bit different. Still you're watching a little kid, and for me it was just so normal when I was 15 playing here. I actually needed a wildcard. I was 15 in the world and I needed a wildcard because of the rules, which was crazy. I already belonged. I was already here. Yeah, you're just such a little kid. You don't know what's happening. Yeah, it's a lot of fun, too. I was having so much fun watching. I was remembering, you know, I was feeling like an adult at 15 when I played here, but, yeah, it's just -- she's just a little girl. It's amazing. Amazing thing to do.

Q. Did you have any close calls qualifying here?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Oh, yes, I did. In the very first round I was down 4-2 in the third against a very good American player. She's actually of Croatian descent. Yeah, very good lefty. Yeah, she just was bombing everything. I was kind of running around thinking, What's happening here? I'm going to go first round home. And then in the third round again I battled 5-2 in the third set. Kind of the same thing. So, yeah, I earned my way again into the main draw.

Q. Where are you training out of?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Actually my brother is here with me. I started training with my brother again this summer, and I'm training out of Bradenton, as well. I started working with Julian Alonso, a former player. So, yeah, we are so excited to be, you know, back getting me to play the way I used to play. That was a big deal. You know, so many people have tried to change me and over the years. I went back to basics and, yeah, I'm starting to feel like myself again finally.

Q. Can you talk about your game, sticking with your game plan today. What did that mean for you?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: I mean, that means I'm not the type of player that, you know, builds points and loops balls and kind of waits for their opportunities. I like to go for my shots. I enjoy that. I enjoy hitting winners. I enjoy hitting aces. I really love that. It's kind of finding the balance for me is the trick. Finding the balance between hitting it 10 feet long and, you know, hitting it inside the lines. Yeah, but still I feel like the biggest thing was confusion over the last couple of years. A lot of people have tried to add more spin, add more patience. I just need to play the way I play and be fit and strong and move well. I feel like I'm doing that now.

Q. How old do you feel?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: I feel goofy right now. I feel like I'm 15 now. I feel so excited. It's crazy. I'm 32, but I don't feel like that. My body is really great. That's really important. I feel fit. I feel strong in my mind. I feel very excited, even after so many years on tour. That's what I find really -- exciting is not the word. Kind of surprising a little bit. I still have so much desire, so much to play. And what I meant today is when I said on the court I realized later what was I saying? I was saying I have such an amazing husband and such a happy life at home that I don't need to do this, you know. I would be perfectly fine having a family. But people don't realize how much I want this and how hard I worked for this. Yeah, it's these moments in these last two weeks that are just -- I mean, it's what I work for. It's just so fulfilling, so amazing.

Q. Best day of your life?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Best day of my life. Yeah, definitely.

Q. Back to back aces on the two final points.

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: So good. I needed it. It was like, Okay, I need an ace. I need an ace. And I did it.

Q. What was your first thought when you hit the second ace?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: I was like, Yeah, did I just do it? Did I look at the score right? I knew obviously what was going on, but I was like, Is this it? Did this actually happen? Yeah, I was super excited. I did exactly what I wanted to do. It was really fun.

Q. In one sense do you feel quote/unquote born again?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: I think that's a great saying, you know. I have heard that over the years, but in these last two weeks absolutely. Absolutely. In every way.

Q. When you see young girls having success in their teens and you talk about maybe almost taking it for granted when you're that age and at 32 how much more you really appreciate it, if you're in a position to counsel a young girl having success at this level, would you want to advise them maybe to relish it a bit more?

MIRJANA LUCIC-BARONI: Yeah. I mean, everybody is so hard on themselves. I used to be so much after losing. Coaches and agents and everybody wants more success always. Especially for young girls you still have to realize you're a little kid and you still have to want to improve. In fact, when you hear -- the greatest champions talk about -- even when they lose they talk about working harder and improving and enjoying the moments. Yeah, that's very important. But that depends a lot obviously on the team you have around you. It's important to keep you grounded. Grounded I think is the biggest importance.