The Australian Open 2017 has featured more than its fair share of feel-good stories.

There was six-time champion Novak Djokovic being stunned by world No 117 Denis Istomin, who was told as a teenager that he would never play the sport again after a serious car crash had left him with 80 stitches.

Then we had Mischa Zverev completing a miraculous journey from being ranked outside of the world's top 1,000 to beating the world No 1 Andy Murray in less than two years. Or how about the lovable Brummie scamp Dan Evans finally delivering on his potential and beating two seeds en route to a first ever slam fourth round?

Some of the bigger names have also warmed the hearts, with Venus Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal all rolling back the years to delight fans who feared their best days were behind them.

Advertisement

But perhaps the greatest tale of all has been the remarkable renaissance of Croatia's Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who has battled her way to the Australian Open quarter-final at the age of 34, 19 years after her previous match win at the tournament, and 18 years since her only other grand slam quarter.

Back in 1998 Lucic-Baroni reached the second round of the competition, and won the doubles title aged 15 alongside near-contemporary Martina Hingis.

Eighteen months later she stunned fourth-seeded Monica Seles and eighth-seeded Nathalie Tauziat to reach the 1999 Wimbledon semi-final as a 17 year old, and it seemed just a matter of time before she went on to win a grand slam title.

Off the court however Lucic-Baroni (or Lucic as she was known then, before marrying Daniele Baroni in 2011) was not in a good place. Prior to the Wimbledon run, she had fled Croatia to Florida with her mother and four siblings to escape what she claimed was the mental and physical abuse of her father. He denied the allegations.

On Monday after beating the American Jennifer Brady to set up a quarter-final against the fifth-seeded Czech Karolina Pliskova, Lucic-Baroni said of her past: "Well, people think they know a lot about my history, but they really do not. One day when I feel like talking about it, I will. Right now is not that day. But people think they know. They have no idea. A lot of the times when I hear, like, injuries and things, those were not the problems at all."

The emotional turmoil Lucic-Baroni was suffering was followed by the disintegration of her tennis career. The Croat's ranking plummeted to below 100 within a year of her Wimbledon success, and she effectively quit the sport between 2003 and 2007, playing just two matches in the 2004, 2005, and 2006 seasons combined. She also became embroiled in a legal battle with her former management company IMG over unpaid loans. The dispute remains unresolved to this day.

But in 2006, Lucic-Baroni pledged to never give up her dream and that despite her father's alleged abuse she would return to top-level tennis.

It has taken her the best part of a decade but now Lucic-Baroni has well and truly made good on that pledge. After playing largely ITF tournaments and achieving some high-profile scalps at grand slams, most notably when beating Simona Halep to reach the 2014 US Open fourth round, Lucic-Baroni is back in the last eight of a major and will move up towards 50 in the rankings next week.

Following the win against Brady, a gleeful Lucic-Baroni said she was experiencing "pure joy. There's no other feeling than bliss."

She also struck a defiant tone and offered some advice to anyone who was having a difficult time.

"I will tell it to anyone struggling out there," she said. "Actually, I can't say it because the TV's here and I'm going to get fined."

"Oh go for it," her interviewer said. "Go for it!"

"F everything and everybody, whoever tells you you can't do it. Just show up and do it with your heart," Lucic-Baroni responded to the delight of the crowd.

When asked how she had managed to overcome the obstacles in her way and get back towards the top of the sport, Lucic-Baroni simply said that she is a "tough little cookie".

Reflecting further on her comeback, Lucic-Baroni was quoted in the New York Times this week as saying: "I had a choice to cave or to grow and blossom from it. I took the latter choice, and I'm very proud of myself and my family, that we got away from that. I didn't let it destroy me. It was difficult, sure, but I believe you really have a choice in everything. You either pick yourself up by the bootstraps and you move on and become stronger from your experiences. Or you falter.

"It was really difficult in the beginning when I started again, because I felt like I belonged somewhere at the top, and I wasn't there. I was fighting really hard, clawing my way back. This also taught me a lot, all these years coming back. Now, I'm really at peace with where I am in my life, where I am in my career. I think it probably does show a little bit on the court as well."

Lucic-Baroni is a big underdog against Pliskova in today's quarter-final, but in this tournament of upsets, she will be giving everything to take another step on what's already been a sporting feelgood story for the ages.

Originally published in the Daily Telegraph