MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Mirjana Lucic-Baroni’s leg hurt so bad she thought she might have to be wheeled out of Rod Laver Arena on Wednesday but the gutsy Croat hung tough to record a 6-4 3-6 6-4 quarter-final victory over fifth seed Karolina Pliskova at Melbourne Park.
The 34-year-old, whose only other appearance in the last four of a grand slam was against Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1999, will play world number two Serena Williams in the semi-finals after the American beat Britain’s Johanna Konta.
The German-born righthander won her first singles match at Melbourne Park in 1998 but had to wait 19 years for her second victory in the year’s opening grand slam last week.
Reaching the last four was beyond her wildest expectations.
“I can’t believe this, this is crazy,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m in semi-finals again. I feel a little bit in shock right now.”
The incredible run almost came to an end on Wednesday when the pain got too much to bear for Lucic-Baroni, who played with heavy strapping around her left thigh and calf.
Trailing 4-3 in the deciding set, she took a five minute medical timeout and was still limping when she returned. But somehow she lifted her game to a new level, rattling off 12 of the next 13 points to race through the final three games and close out the match.
“I was really worried. I didn’t know if I had it in me to finish it,” Lucic-Baroni told reporters. “I started hurting pretty bad mid-match, especially at the end.
“I was really concerned with my physical wellbeing at that point. And I just said to myself, ‘They’re either going to wheel you out. I’m not going to give up, just keep fighting’.
“And that was it.”
The timeout changed the momentum of a match that had already produced several twists and turns, with both players seizing the advantage at certain points but never really dominating.
“When I took the medical timeout, I wasn’t really sure how I was feeling,” she added. “I felt in that moment only God can help me.”
Lucic-Baroni’s aggression saw her seal the first set in 32 minutes and she looked in control after a strong start in the second, but after Pliskova got a break back and took a medical timeout to fix strapping on her right foot the momentum shifted.
The fifth-seeded Czech ran away with the second set to level the match, and while she carried the momentum into the decider she failed to capitalize.
Lucic-Baroni looked to be on the way out of the tournament when she called for the timeout at 4-3 down, but the fairytale was far from over.
Despite her injuries, Lucic-Baroni was not concerned about having to face Williams on Thursday. She has not had a moment’s rest during the tournament anyway as she made the quarter-finals of the doubles with Germany’s Andrea Petkovic.
“I’m going to recover, do some therapy, and I’ll be fine,” she said. “I’ll just put some extra tape on and hopefully it will hold me together.”
(Writing by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford)