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article from 10 days ago ... she sounds so happy!

WTA Star Mirjana Lucic Still Calls Sarasota Home

By McCarton Ackerman | March 5, 2011

“We didn’t really look elsewhere around Florida,” said Lucic. “My family and I came here and it was perfect. It was ideal for my career with the weather and lots of tennis players of living in the area."

Credit Eduardo Munoz

Photos (3)
Credit Eduardo Munoz
Credit Jim McIsaac

She’s endured some of the best and worst moments in her career in this town, but professional tennis player Mirjana Lucic is quick to call Sarasota home.

“I’m very happy here and intend to always stay,” said Lucic, 29, who currently finds herself in the top 100 of the WTA rankings. “I’ve met my fiancée here and we are getting married here later in the year, so Sarasota has been good to me.“

A native of the Croatian seaside town of Bol, Lucic was touted to become one of the games great players from a very early age. At the age of 14, she won the girls’ singles title at the US Open in 1996 and the Australian Open in 1997, establishing as the No. 1 ranked junior player in the world.

One week after turning pro in May of 1997, she won her first WTA title and reached the finals of her next event. Her powerful forehand and serve became the topic of discussion amongst her fellow competitors and tennis commentators Hall of famer Steffi Graf declared that she could become one of the greatest players of all time.

However, underneath the personal success lay an abusive father who became too much to handle. Lucic fled Croatia with her family in the summer of 1998, relocating to the Bolletieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton.

“We didn’t really look elsewhere around Florida,” said Lucic. “My family and I came here and it was perfect. It was ideal for my career with the weather and lots of tennis players of living in the area. And the beautiful beaches also had a big influence since I grew up in a coastal city.”

With her mother and four siblings in tow, Lucic fell in love with Sarasota life. Her happiness off the court began to show in her results on the court. At Wimbledon in 1999, she knocked off Monica Seles on her way to reaching the semifinals, where she lost a nail-biting encounter to Steffi Graf on center court.

Just as her game was beginning to take off again, injuries and financial problems derailed her career. Lucic played sporadically between 2002 and 2007 before launching a full comeback at United Tennis Academy in Bradenton the following year and playing events on the challenger circuit, considered to be the minor leagues of pro tennis.

She dug her way through small towns and weekly paychecks that sometimes didn’t even hit triple digits for the next two years before finally coming full circle. Lucic won a small challenger event in the spring that put her ranking high enough to enter the qualifying for Wimbledon. After making it through all three rounds of qualifying, she found herself back on Center Court 11 years after her last visit, losing a well-contested match in the first round.

Later that summer, Lucic qualified for the US Open and won her first match, her first main draw victory at a Grand Slam in eight years. The match brought her back to Louis Armstrong Stadium for the first time since 1998, where she lost a three set match to top 10 player (and Bradenton native) Jelena Jankovic. By the end of the year, Lucic was back inside the top 100.

“Every match I win now, it’s like winning an entire tournament,” said Lucic. “I was winning tournaments since I was six years old and it was always normal. But once that has been taken away for years and you haven’t had that feeling, every match gives me such satisfaction now. I’m really happy just to have the ability to do it again.”

Lucic is now back to doing what she loves, traveling the globe for roughly half the year and competing in some of the biggest events in the world, but there are still some places she can’t wait to visit back home.

“I practically live in Mediterraneo,” said Lucic. “I’ve been blessed to travel the world and eat some of the best food possible, but they have the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life. They even named one after me called “Miki” (buffalo mozzarella, arugula, cherry tomatoes, prosciutto and shaved parmesan), which I highly recommend."
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