This match was always going to have great pedigree. Mirjana Lucic was once regarded as part of ‘the spice girls of tennis’ – a group that was going to dominate the ladies circuit for at least the next decade – but even at the tender age of 17 she had apparently missed the boat. The raw ability that gave her a title at the age of 15 years 1 month and 25 days did not materialize into the likes of Hingis, the Williams sisters, or Kournikova. Instead, she became better known for being a victim of another ‘tennis dad’, and so today she had much to prove to both herself and the public. The story of Seles is as well known as any in tennis, and while she was world No 1 for an amazing 178 weeks, Wimbledon is the one Grand Slam she has yet to win. Moreover, the political overtones of Seles being originally from Serbia and Lucic’s Croatian nationality, made this battle even more intriguing.
Consequently, the tension was high amid the atmosphere of Centre Court, as a noisy crowd (having just seen the local hero Henman win a difficult match) witnessed some fantastic tennis, probably surpassing any of the other Ladies Singles matches this week. Some of the groundstrokes were of the highest calibre, both girls finding angles that looked near impossible to achieve. In fact, Lucic’s double-handed backhand in the second set was reminiscent of Seles at her best.
However, surprisingly there was no break of serve until the 20th game of the match. Seles, the No 4 seed this year, was serving especially well, as she dropped only one point on her service in the first set. Ultimately, this encounter was so tight that both sets went down to a tie-break, and it was Lucic who showed the greater nerve, winning 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-4). To gain her second match point, Lucic had the audacity to play a delicate drop shot from the baseline, after a typically ferocious back court rally. It paid off and the Croat, who like Seles, has also moved to the United States with her family (except father, who she has not seen in about a year), was justified in her new found confidence.
“I was feeling that I played really well,” said Lucic. “Not for one second did I think I was not going to win that match. I came in confident and just wanted to play my game, and not worry about her (Seles). I did that today, so I’m very happy.”
On being asked whether this was the best win of her career, Lucic responded, “Yes definitely, and especially because the past year was so difficult for me. I had a lot of personal problems and then I was injured for a very long time. After the US Open, I didn’t see a tennis ball or racquet for three months. Then injury after injury, and it became hard to come back on a tennis court and play well. So I came here and decided to change a lot of things, and I have to say that I’m a lucky girl because of the amazing support from my family.”
One has to feel sorry for Seles, who did not do much wrong in the first set. It was only on the crucial points that she fell short. Seles, the winner of nine Grand Slams, said afterwards, “Throughout the match I never felt that I had really gotten into it.”
Lucic will now play Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand for a place in the Quarter-Finals.