In an increasingly impure sports landscape, there’s no denying how awesome this moment is.
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, a qualifier ranked No. 121 in the world, pulled off the upset of the U.S. Open so far, beating No. 2 seed Simona Halep in straight sets Friday.
That, in and of itself, is news for the tennis crowd. But the story of how Lucic-Baroni got here — and what happened in her press conference afterward — is something all sports fans can appreciate.
First, some background. Lucic-Baroni, now 32 years old, was once a teen phenom. She made the semis at Wimbledon in 1999 at age 17, then just Mirjana Lucic, beating Monica Seles along the way. It took Steffi Graf three sets to knock her out in the semis. Here’s how she looked then.
One year earlier, when she was still 15, Lucic paired with Martina Hingis to win the Australian Open women’s doubles title. She seemed to have the brightest of futures ahead.
Soon after, though, she was beset my personal problems. It was revealed that she had been abused by her father since childhood. She took an eight-year break from pro tennis before returning in 2007. She struggled in lower-tier tournaments and battled injuries for years.
She made the qualifying draw at this U.S. Open, winning three matches just to get into the main draw, where she has won an additional three matches. She is now into the fourth round, her best performance at a Grand Slam event since that semifinal run at the All England Club 15 years ago.
So you can understand the raw emotion that came out in the incredible press conference that followed her win, which you can see here. Here’s the relevant part of the transcript:
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 question.
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.
OK, that text hardly does the emotion in her response justice at all. Go watch the video. It’s worth it. That exchange starts around the 2:49 mark.
In a world where athlete Q&A’s have about as much depth as a kiddie pool, this was a powerful moment. Hard not to root for that comeback story.
Lucic-Baroni next faces No. 13 seed Sara Errani, who took out No. 19 Venus Williams on Friday.