By Ros Satar, in Melbourne
- Serena Williams  v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
- Head to Head: Williams leads 2-0.
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – Two enduring professionals who have travelled two very different paths will battle for a spot in the Australian Open final.
Serena Williams needs no introduction. 22 Grand Slam titles, six of them from Melbourne, and facing a fellow child prodigy for the first time in 19 years. Both Williams and Mirjana Lucic-Baroni had star quality and a young age. But personal circumstances would derail the Croatian, while the Williams sisters started to carve their names in history.
Life has not always been fair to Williams either – she has suffered the tragic loss of her sister, a freak injury at a restaurant and a pulmonary embolism. She has both dominated and looked fragile as she continues to chase history.
Williams is an agonising one Slam away from overtaking Steffi Graf for most Slam wins in the Open era, but standing in her way is a player whose fairy-tale run has captured the hearts of many. From the lack of matching kit (she wears what she feels like from her eclectic repertoire) to more tape than was found on Tutankhamun, Lucic-Baroni has charmed with her fighting spirit, her off-the-cuff on-court interviews, and the promise that one day we will know the full life story that brought her here.
Both play an aggressive base-line game and although Williams lifted her level there are still areas that frustrate her. Her first serve has not been particularly reliable, although she has worked well on her second serve which really showed in her match against Britain’s Johanna Konta.
For Lucic-Baroni, the lingering question is can the adrenaline that has taken her through victories over third seed Agnieszka Radwanska, and fifth seed Karolina Pliskova carry her through to another encounter with Williams.
The Croat said: “It’s just perseverance. It’s just ignoring everything and just pushing forward and kind of going through the wall. It’s not going but you keep pushing and you keep pushing, and nothing is working, and you keep pushing. That belief that eventually it will change… I think that’s what perseverance is, and I feel like that’s what helped me get here.”
Williams had to think back to that summer in Wimbledon in their more formative years, having beaten her earlier in the year at Sydney.
She recalled: “It was in ’98, I remember. It was on Centre Court. I remember winning. I was so excited because I was so young. She obviously was super young, too.
“Honestly, we have totally different games now, the both of us. We both have gone through a lot. We both have survived, and here we are, which I think is a really remarkable story.”
Lucic-Baroni was able to hit clean through one of the big power-strikers on the tour at the moment, in Pliskova, and will need to have that same rage and power to frustrate Williams. The World No. 2 will always play down the role of history, and probably even reclaiming the World No. 1 spot, but she is looking very focussed, and she still has yet to drop a set.
Prediction: Williams in two sets.
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