It's one of the fairytale stories of the Australian Open but Mirjana Lucic-Baroni's run to the women's semifinals is not your usual comeback story.

The 79th-ranked player in the world will face six-time champion Serena Williams this evening. It's a daunting match-up for 34-year-old but one she should be ready to face head-on after overcoming so much in her tennis career that previously peaked 18 years ago.

In 1999, a 17-year-old Lucic-Baroni upset Monica Seles en route to the Wimbledon semifinals, where she lost to Steffi Graf.

Soon after, however, came a career tailspin due to personal issues and financial problems. Within a few years she was out of the sport completely.


Lucic-Baroni revealed at the time that she fled Croatia to Florida with her four siblings to get away from an abusive father.

"There have been more beatings than anyone can imagine,'' she told the New York Times. She said it was "too dangerous" to stay in her homeland.

Her father Marinko Lucic, a former Olympic decathlete, wrote a letter to a local Croatian newspaper to answer the allegations of abuse.

"I never used excessive force," Marinko Lucic wrote, "and if I did give her the occasional slap, it was because of her behaviour; I did what I believe was best for my child."

Lucic-Baroni still doesn't like to talk about those dark years, but the pain was evident in her tears on Wednesday when she beat fifth seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the quarter-finals.

"I know this means a lot to every player to reach the semifinals, but to me, this is just overwhelming," she said, choking up after her latest victory. "This has truly made my life. And everything bad that happened, it has made it OK."

"One day I will say a big, long story about things that have happened to me, but I could never dream about being here again," she said after the win.

Lucic-Baroni's comeback began in the late 2000s at minor tournaments in Alabama and Florida. By 2010, she was playing in the majors again, but it would be another seven years before she could string together this run at the Australian Open.

"I really knew deep down in my soul that I have these results in me," she said. "To now be here and actually live these moments, it's incredible."

- With AP