It is nearly eight months since Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, then 32, shocked tennis, New York and a host of people who had forgotten who she was by finishing her match against second seed Simona Halep with two aces to reach the second week of a slam for the first time in 15 years.
It was, she said, “the greatest day of my life”. Well, the Croatian with a history that might have been ripped from the pages of a penny dreadful will have to make room for another remarkable episode in her epic dialogue with the Romanian.
To the amazement of everyone but herself on Court Suzanne Lenglen on Wednesday, Lucic-Baroni overpowered the third seed and 2014 finalist even more convincingly than at the US Open to reach the third round against the French player Alizé Cornet – 16 years after her debut at Roland Garros, when she had no hyphen in her name but stars in her eyes.
Lucic had won the girls' title in Australia and New York before she was 14, putting her alongside Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati. She reached the third round of the US Open in 1998 and the semi-final at Wimbledon a year later, and it took Steffi Graf to stop her. But financial and personal problems forced her to quit tennis in 2003 for four years, and she later revealed her father had abused her as a child. The youthful vim seemed gone for good.
However, renewed in love (she added her husband’s name to her own when they married in 2010), she embraced tennis again. Of course, life is not a fairytale, and 2015 has been tough, like so many years before.
She reached the second round in Brisbane and the quarters in Acapulco. Then she went out in the first round at Hobart, the Australian Open, Antwerp, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Charleston, Prague and Madrid. In Rome, she went out in qualifying.
Now, at 33, back in the big time for a moment or two, she told fans still standing and cheering in their seats yesterday: “I’m so proud of myself. It’s such a huge win . . . I hope at least three French people will cheer for me against [Cornet] next match; then I’ll be happy.”
Halep had a blistered finger taped in the first set and fell badly in the second, but Lucic-Baroni’s fierce hitting and artful strategy played a bigger part in the Romanian’s downfall.
Even with her right trapezium, shoulder and biceps strapped, the Croatian hit four aces, outserving Halep and leaving her stranded with flat, precise groundstrokes to win 7-5, 6-1. Lucic-Baroni might not get past Cornet, but, for now, she has the biggest smile in Paris.
There were a couple of other minor rarities on the Lenglen court, such as Roger Federer hitting a two-handed backhand lob against Marcel Granollers. Not much else about the match was out of character, as an entertaining contest ended limply, Granollers shoving a backhand return into the net after an hour and 47 minutes to hand Federer a 6-2, 7-6, 6-3 win.