Who is Marcos Baghdatis?Posted on January 26, 2006
Marcos Baghdatis has lit up the 2006 Australian Open with victories over Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian. But who is the 20-year-old, who stands a chance to take home the trophy when he plays in the championship match on Sunday?
MARCOS MAKES HIS MOVE
Reprinted from the Summer 2005 issue of DEUCE, the Official Magazine of the ATP
By Suzi Petkovski
A budding showman, Baghdatis, the world No.1 junior in 2003 and the best player to emerge from Cyprus, competes without fear. After his “unbelievable
second-round meeting with Roger Federer at the 2004 US Open (only he and Andre Agassi managed to prise a set from the Swiss maestro), Baghdatis won two Challengers later that year. In the latter he defeated world No.14 Dominik Hrbaty before his hometown of Bratislava. In Australia in 2005, he romped through qualifying without losing a set and upended hardened pros Ivan Ljubicic (seeded 22) and Tommy Robredo (13) before falling to Roger Federer. By the end of January, Baghdatis had soared 61 places to No.94 in the INDESIT ATP Rankings – achieving his 2005 goal to break the top 100. A smooth talent in a swarthy, hirsute package, Baghdatis superficially resembles a heftier Marcelo Rios. But unlike the prickly Rios, Marcos is as sunny as Cyprus. An engaging crowd-pleaser, he jumps for joy after landing his favourite running forehand, bounces the ball between his legs as part of his pre-serve ritual, and crosses himself after missing easy overheads. He seemed to enjoy a miraculous Federer around-the-netpost winner almost as much as his opponent. And Baghdatis’s tennis idol is as far from the lip-curling Rios as you could get: the great sport Pat Rafter. “I just like his style, personality and how he is on the court,
Marcos explains (needlessly). “He’s a great athlete, a great person. I just love the way he is. Everything.
When Rafter passed Baghdatis in the corridors of Melbourne Park and said “Great match
after his win over Robredo, the multilingual Marcos was tongue-tied. All he could get out was a thank-you. Plonking himself in an outdoor chair under the eucalypts at Melbourne Park, Baghdatis, who speaks Greek, English and his adopted French, looks every bit the tennis gypsy: pierced left lobe, three-day growth, and long thick hair with silver streaks. He has twinkling eyes and a mobile face that regularly breaks into laughter. Like when I ask if he has any friends or relations among Melbourne’s large Cypriot community. “That’s pretty funny,
he chortles. “I have 21 cousins in Sydney, three or four in Melbourne, three or four in Perth also. My father’s Lebanese and I have Lebanese cousins here. It’s a big family!
Baghdatis was also supported in Australia by a loud Greek chorus which so delighted in their man’s efforts that, as Federer put it: “I had to check the score and make sure that I was actually winning. They sang along like they were winning.
“That’s the heart that Cypriots have,
Marcos says proudly. “We never stop fighting and that’s important. I wanna thank them because they’ve been really, really fantastic. I’ve been (this far) because I came through qualies, they helped me a lot and I want to thank them very much.
Winning the 2003 Australian Open juniors “helped a lot
, says Baghdatis, in convincing him he had a future in the game. “Gave me confidence and gave me the will to work.
Even then, he was performing his pre-serve party trick of bouncing the ball around his right leg. “I just took a habit of doing it in 2001,
he shrugs. Has he ever whacked himself in the shin? “Yes, many times!
he admits, but thankfully never on centre court. Baghdatis has silky, languid timing and a lively, almost hyper, rhythm between points. He can clock 200kmh serves but, like Federer, his game will always rely on smooth timing more than one-dimensional power. He struck a series of sweet forehands in Melbourne that left even Federer flat-footed. “I love when I make a forehand on the run,
he says, dark eyes gleaming. Cyprus (population 800,000), in the eastern Mediterranean, has produced very few players of world standard, although the Baghdatis family can boast three of them. Marcos’s older brothers Marinos and Petros both played Davis Cup so it was inevitable that the third son would start very young. As Marcos remembers it: “Since I was born I was at the club.
He began at age 5 on artificial grass, quit tennis at age 8 in favour of football (soccer) and at 10, having already exhausted the pool of practice partners in his hometown of Limassol, on the south coast, moved to the national federation in the divided capital, Nicosia, and lived with his coach. Another wrenching move followed. Marcos was 13 and didn’t speak a word of French when he moved to Paris to train at the Mauratoglu academy. Leaving his family and island nation is the toughest breakpoint he’s faced. “That, was hard, really hard,
Marcos recalls. “I had to go and live a different life to start playing professionally. But I am really lucky to be the person that I am now. I went to another family, French family, who supported me so much. Even Patrick Mauratoglu, the owner of the academy, helped me very, very, very much. They gave me love, they gave me everything. I owe them a lot. I’m really proud of me, them, and everything we did together.
There’s a lot to love in Baghdatis’ game and unspoiled nature. The best thing about being a tennis pro? “Running for balls,
he replies with a grin. The toughest thing? “If you love it and you work hard, nothing’s tough.
It’s early days in his tennis education but Marcos has absorbed his lessons well. He’s game and set for the master class.
FAST FACTS THE ROAD TO THE FINAL MARCOS BAGHDATIS
• Baghdatis is playing in his sixth career Grand Slam tournament. He could tie Rafael Nadal and Bjorn Borg by winning the sixth-fastest Slam title.
• This season, before coming here, he reached the quarterfinals in Doha, defeating Feliciano Lopez 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in the second round, before losing to eventual champion Roger Federer 6-4, 6-3. Following that he lost in the first round in Auckland to eventual champion Jarkko Nieminen 6-2, 6-2.
• Baghdatis won the Australian Open junior boys’ title in 2003, defeating Florin Mergea 6-4, 6-4, and he went on to be ITF Junior World Champion that year as the topranked boy. Stefan Edberg is the only player to have won both the Australian Open junior and senior titles in the Open Era. He captured the boys’ singles title in 1983, before winning the men’s singles in 1985 and 1987.
• Baghdatis enjoys plenty of support from the Greek and Cypriot community when he plays in Melbourne, his fan base helped by the fact that he has nine uncles and 21 cousins living in Australia – mostly Lebanese from his father’s side of the family. His father, Christos, is from Lebanon but moved to Cyprus where he met wife Andry, a Greek Cypriot.
• Baghdatis moved from Limassol, Cyprus to Paris at the age of 13 to train at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy on an Olympic Solidarity Youth Development Programme Scholarship. He was a member of an ITF Development Touring Team in 1999, funded by the Grand Slam Development Fund.