A former tennis teenage star has been confirmed for the 2009 ASB Classic featuring the Kia Motors Singles and Doubles.
Croatian, Mirjana Lucic, now aged 26 advised ASB Classic Tournament Director Brenda Perry late on Boxing Day afternoon she would be able to accept the main draw wildcard having arranged last minute flights and appropriate visas from her Florida home.
Although recently absent from big-time tennis for personal reasons Lucic was a star in the late 1990’s breaking all sorts of records.
She gave notice to the tennis world in 1997 when as an unranked wildcard qualifier she won her first WTA Tour event she played at Bol in her home nation.
Lucic was 15 years, one month and 25 days old at the time making her the fifth youngest title holder in women’s tennis history.
She then went on to reach the final at her second career event – Strasbourg.
While playing in her first WTA Tour doubles draw she became the youngest player in history to win a title at the Australian Open, capturing the doubles title at age 15 years 10 months and 21 days by teaming up with another teen phenomenon, Martina Hingis.
Following her success in Melbourne she went on to defend her singles title at Bol and had various other quality results on the WTA Tour.
In 1999 as the 134th ranked player in the world she beat world No4 Monica Seles and eighth seed Nathalie Tauziat to make the semifinals of Wimbledon before falling to Steffi Graf in three sets.
Lucic was the lowest ranked player to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since the start of the women’s tennis rankings in 1975.
Since her meteoric rise as a teenage Lucic hit some troubled times in her life, but is now on the comeback trail with her traditional big serve, a determined attitude and a new opportunity at her chosen career.
“Considering the challenges Mirjana has faced in her life over the last few years, I think most people in her situation may well have abandoned their dreams by now and just found it all too hard.
But the fact that she still has the desire to compete and still has the belief in herself, speaks volumes about her character, her courage and her fierce competitive spirit,” says Perry.
Lucic is hopeful the ASB Classic will be a new beginning for her career with intentions to play a full year of professional tennis.
“She reached great heights very quickly at a young age and it would be a wonderful comeback story to see her back amongst the world’s best. She will be a tough opponent for whoever she plays in the ASB Classic,” comments Perry.
In 2008 Lucic played a number of tournaments where she mainly fought out qualifying matches with susbstantial three set contests and some improving results.
"I am extremely excited about coming to Auckland and playing in the ASB Classic for the first time. I have worked very hard in the off-season and feel very positive about my game and the opportunity to play with the best tennis players in the world in Auckland. I have spent 2008 playing lots of qualifying of challengers and working on getting my game to a better level.
I know that 2009 will be a great year for me, and there is no better way to start the season then getting this amazing opportunity to play in the main draw of such a great tournament.”
The Australian Open is also significant for her as it was where she made such a big international impact at such a young age. She is hoping to gain a singles qualifying wildcard into the first Grand Slam of the year.
"The years 2004-2007 have been extremely difficult for me; not being able to continue traveling and competing on the tour because of financial reasons, but I never stopped training and I never lost the belief in myself and my ability on the tennis court and most definitely I never lost the love for this great sport. This is a very exciting time for me and I look forward to an amazing 2009,” says Lucic.
Lucic has a current Sony Ericsson WTA singles ranking of 433.
In junior competition Lucic had a prolific record winning the 1996 US Open junior title and the 1997 Australian Open junior singles title becoming only the third player in the Open era to take away two junior Grand Slams by the age of 14 (the other two players were Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati).
Already confirmed for a main draw wildcard is former world No4 Kimiko Date Krumm of Japan while Dutchwoman Michaella Krajicek and Croatian 17-year-old Petra Martic have been granted wildcards into the qualifying. Two Kiwis – Di Hollands and Kairangi Vano also have wildcards into the ASB Classic qualifying draw.
The one main draw doubles wildcard is likely to be given to a New Zealand pairing which is yet to be confirmed.
The ASB Classic will also feature on-court coaching for the first time as part of an initiative on Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.
The tournament will once again feature audio and video podcasting as well as live scoring.
The ASB Classic featuring the Kia Motors Singles and Doubles will be played at the ASB Tennis Centre January 5-10, with qualifying January 3-4.