By Justin Bergman / The Associated Press
MELBOURNE—The last time Serena Williams and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni played each other, nearly two decades ago at Wimbledon, they were both precocious teenagers just starting their tennis careers.
Now, the two 30-something women will meet again in the semifinals of the Australian Open, a tournament that’s starting to have a distinct throwback feel.
Serena Williams, 35, reached her 10th consecutive Grand Slam semifinal with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Johanna Konta on Wednesday, while Lucic-Baroni, 34, upset fifth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, to advance to her first major semifinal in nearly 18 years.
“Thirties is the new 10,” Williams said. “No matter what happens, someone 34 or older will be in the final.”
With 36-year-old Venus Williams also reaching the semifinals, it’s the first time in the Open era that two players aged 35 or older have reached the final four of a Grand Slam. Venus plays another American, CoCo Vandeweghe, in her semifinal on Thursday.
On the men’s side, 35-year-old Roger Federer and 31-year-old Stan Wawrinka have also booked spots in the semis. Thirty-year-old Rafael Nadal will attempt to join them when he plays Milos Raonic later Wednesday.
Grigor Dimitrov beat David Goffin, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, to reach his second Grand Slam semifinal. He made it that far at Wimbledon in 2014.
Serena Williams was tested by Konta in the second set when the British player broke her to go up 2-1. But Williams broke back at love to level the score at 3-all and saved another break point in her next service game before closing out the match.
Williams finished with 10 aces, but only connected on 45 percent of her first serves overall.
“The main focus is actually my serve,” said Williams, who is aiming for a record 23rd Grand Slam title. “I got a little frustrated, but then I just told myself, ‘Serena, stop complaining. Don’t be Baby Rena out here.’”
Lucic-Baroni advanced to the last four at a major for the first time since her run to the Wimbledon semifinals in 1999 at the age of 17.
The last time she made it this far, Lucic-Baroni also had to face a woman with 22 majors—Steffi Graf. Graf won their semifinal match, but fell short in her bid to win her 23rd major title against Lindsay Davenport.
The 79th-ranked Lucic-Baroni is surprised she is getting another chance at this stage of her career.
She and Pliskova combined for 14 service breaks in an up-and-down match before the Croatian left the court midway through the third set for treatment on her heavily taped left leg.
When she returned, she won eight straight points to hold and get the final break of the match and then put a rosary around her neck to serve it out.
“I know this means a lot to every player to reach the semifinals, but to me, this is just overwhelming,” she said, in tears, after the match. “This has truly made my life and everything bad that happened, it has made it OK.”
Lucic-Baroni was once considered a prodigy with as much promise as the Williams sisters. She won the first tournament she entered as a 15 year old in 1997 and several months later captured the 1998 Australian Open doubles title with Martina Hingis.
She and Serena played each other twice in 1998, including in the second round of Wimbledon, a match won by Williams. They haven’t played on tour since.
“It was on Centre Court,” Williams said. “That’s all I remember. I remember winning. I was so excited because I was so young. She obviously was super young, too.”
After Lucic-Baroni’s run at Wimbledon the following year, her career was sidetracked by personal issues and financial problems. She was largely out of the sport for several years before launching a comeback in the late-2000s. Despite her recent difficulties, Lucic-Baroni said she never lost the belief she could compete at the top of the game.
“When you stop winning as much and you don’t play for a long time, yeah, you definitely lose it a little bit,” she said. “Not even lose it, you forget it…. And I’m really glad that I remembered.”
When asked about her own longevity in the sport, Williams said she’s been around so long, many of her former competitors are now playing in the legends’ doubles event at the majors.
“I think at one point I was older than some of those players. I was wondering, ‘Should I be on the legends tour?’” she said with a laugh.
Image credits: AP