- Associated Press - Friday, August 29, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni ousted the No. 2 player in the world with two straight aces.

“It was really easy,” she said through tears later. “Right now it’s hard.”

Hard thinking back to the 15 years since she last made a Grand Slam round of 16. The days spent working out wondering if she’d find the financial backing to return to competition. The injuries that would crop up just as she was regaining her form.

She kept going, kept running herself breathless in practice, kept grinding through minor-league tournaments - all for a moment like Friday. At age 32, Lucic-Baroni stunned second-seeded Simona Halep 7-6 (6), 6-2 in the third round of the U.S. Open.

She was 17 when she reached the 1999 Wimbledon semifinals, the last time she got this far on the Grand Slam stage. Lucic-Baroni, a 1998 Australian Open doubles champion with Martina Hingis, was a prodigy: At her very first WTA event as a 15-year-old, she won the title. That year, she made it to the third round at the U.S. Open.

Like many tennis aficionados, Lucic-Baroni watched 15-year-old CiCi Bellis play her second-round match Thursday. The Croatian veteran was charmed by the youngster’s wide-eyed delight. She also couldn’t help but contrast that to herself at the same age.

“I was feeling like an adult at 15 when I played here,” Lucic-Baroni said. “She’s just a little girl.”

It’s as though Lucic-Baroni is living her life in reverse - stoic as a teen, childlike as a 30-something.

“I was so young and I was so good and I was winning so much that even though it’s exciting, it wasn’t really a big deal,” she said. “It was just a natural progression.”

Now, she added, “Every round is amazing.”

“In a way, I know I sound like and I feel like a little kid, like this is the first time ever happening,” she said. “I love the feeling.”

She didn’t play a Grand Slam match for nearly eight years from the 2002 U.S. Open until 2010 Wimbledon.

“When I would get my chance on a big court against a big player, I wanted it so bad that I kind of was paralyzed,” she said.

She’d fret: “OK, how many more do I have? I have to do it now.”

Finally she relaxed and told herself: “Just play tennis.”

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