After being a breakout star on the tennis scene as a teenager in the late 1990s, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni certainly has had one of the most eventful, up and down careers of many of the active players. At her final stop of the 2015 season in Luxembourg, René Denfeld sat down with the 33-year-old Croat to look at the past, how much she’s enjoying the present and what the future might hold for her.
After wrapping up her first round match in Luxembourg — a 6-3, 7-6(3) win over German Carina Witthöft — Mirjana Lucic-Baroni’s obligations continued – but the kind of obligations she enjoys, joining in a podium discussion on “Business Meets Sports.”
“Actually it was really fun, it was interesting,” Lucic-Baroni said. “There was a psychologist and a business owner on stage and we were talking a little bit about everything — ups and downs, and failures and success. It was really interesting. It’s a part of what we do, but it’s really fun for us. It’s not just about being on court for one and a half, two hours. It’s much more than that.”
The 33-year-old certainly knows her fair share of ups and downs on and off the tour during the past 17 years. After reaching the Wimbledon semifinals at the age of 17 in 1999, the Croat was one of the game’s most exciting prospects but — as she explained during the 2014 US Open during her stunning run to the second week — a series of unfortunate twists and turns in her life saw struggle and abandon the sport for a couple of years.
“I feel I’m not really big on giving advice to people…but I feel like because of my history, I have a little more experience,” Lucic-Baroni said. “Maybe I have a little more to say generally, since I know the feeling, so I feel like I can speak generally to certain subjects.”
Upon the question what she’s tell herself teenage self from many years ago, Lucic-Baroni was quick to reply.
“[If you asked] that I’d be playing Luxembourg at the age of 33, I’d probably say ‘Get out of here, no chance!’,” the 1999 Wimbledon semifinalist laughed. “I wouldn’t imagine that because also at that time, players retired at the age of 27 or 28 — so 33 seems impossible. But, I’m really in a good place right now. I missed quite a few years on tour, so now having a chance to be out there battling…it’s not always easy, but it’s also — there’s a certain amount of fun in it — so I really am enjoying myself.”
“I’m very much [enjoying my second career]. I feel it was taken away from me due to unfortunate circumstances the first time, but I feel I worked my way back and I earned it. I’m here and why not? I still can compete with the best players.”
Some of Lucic-Baroni’s results of the past two years have certainly proved that: she ended two of World No. 2 Simona Halep’s major campaigns over the course of the last year-and-a-half and defeated Venus Williams in the championship match in Quebec last season to capture her first title in over 14 years.
Just like Quebec, Luxembourg is one of the few remaining indoor events on the circuit. Lucic-Baroni very much enjoys a roof over her head, but with the way the schedule changed over the past few years, there aren’t too many opportunities to play in some of her favorite conditions.
“There are quite a few less,” she said. “It’s crazy [and] it’s a little bit disappointing. It is what it is; we have to make the best out of it. A lot has moved to China now and to Asia, so we just have to travel a little further to get to play some tennis.”
While Lucic-Baroni is still enjoying her second career too much to think about hanging up her rackets, she already has plans for the future.
“Besides tennis, my biggest passion is cooking,” she said. “I’m crazy about it. My sister is a publisher so I already have a book ready and as soon as I’m ready it’s going to be out. That’s sort of another career I’d like to have. It’s something I really enjoy. We’ll see where it takes me and how it’s going to go but who knows.”
When it comes to trying out different foods in order to get inspired, Lucic-Baroni admitted it’s a little easier in some parts of the world than others.
“Yes — I try. Or rather I try to try! In Asia, it’s a little bit more difficult sometimes. Ah, I’m being so nice right now!” she added with a laugh. “In Europe, it’s easy for me; everywhere I go, I know where it’s good, really nice and really fun, so I get to have some nice food, definitely.”
There’s a good chance the Croat is going to do some more of that during the off-season, as she admitted she’s looking forward to a vacation more than just a little.
“A little? A LOT!” she exclaimed. “You have no idea. It was a really long and hard season, [with] hard work, many ups and downs but overall a good season. I’m happy. I battled through some rough things and I deserve a nice vacation. I’m really looking forward to that.”
While she might be trading in her Wimbledon whites for a white chef’s jacket in the future, Lucic-Baroni says that she will always be open to passing her experience on to the next generation.
“I’m never going to say, ‘No way,’ [and] I may be coaching in a few years — God knows. Who knows what’s going to happen in a few years.”
Next year, however, Lucic-Baroni does know what’ll happen: in 2016, she wants to continue to enjoy her tennis.
“Just for myself, [I want to] go out there, enjoy it and play hard.”