Dear Followers of Tennis, Trisomy 21 and Taking in Life Together,
Sometimes when the writer’s bug hits, you let it bite. My Monday post is a day early, but in Australia it is already Monday!
Jennifer Brady, 21, meets Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, 34, in a fourth-round match at the Australian Open today (Monday).
Jennifer earned that right by winning three matches in the qualifying rounds before saving match points against an opponent in the main draw and upsetting the 14th seed in her last match.
Born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, she moved to Florida as a child to train, go to school, train, then study two years at UCLA, and train some more, day in and day out. With the support of her family, she has devoted her life to her sport and to her studies. By reaching the fourth round in a major tournament, she will be able to live and train unburdened by financial concerns.
Paying your dues is to be taken literally for most professional tennis players. Many families invest $200,000 or more in the early career stages of their sons or daughters if they are promising junior stars — who still, though, usually count as amateurs and cannot receive prize money.
In the last century, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni was one of those players. In her Australian Open debut in 1998, she won the doubles at age 16. The next year, she reached the semis of Wimbledon. She was a sure bet to set all kinds of records.
And she did, just not the ones that were expected.
Mirjana waited another 19 years to win another first-round singles match in Melbourne, eclipsing the 17 years of patience displayed by Kimiko Date-Krumm at Wimbledon in her Grand Slam career.
Mirjana’s odyssey included leaving behind her country, Croatia, and a father she has claimed was abusive. Her life and confidence interrupted at a tender age, she slipped further and further down the tennis mountain, but still kept pushing a boulder back up it — albeit in small satellite tournaments where precious ranking points and prize money are fiercely fought in settings far less glamorous than Melbourne, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, or Flushing Meadows.
Both Jennifer and Mirjana have put in all the hours and blood, sweat and tears needed to play their match today. They are at different stages in their careers, but they are the real deal and their results are bona fide, unlike the “alternative facts” the new occupants of the White House are offering the world. Jennifer and Mirjana deserve to be celebrated. They have combined ambition with genuine talent and hard work.