Baghdatis writes new chapter in fairy-tale run
Thursday 06 July 2006
Among those in an enthralled Centre Court crowd was Baghdatis' mother, Andry, who could hardly bear to watch at times, despite her son's incredible year - he reached the Australian Open final - and his dominance yesterday. She need not have worried. After breezing through the first set and wobbling in the second, Baghdatis regained his composure to sizzle in a third set tie-break and waltz away with the deciding set.
Andry and Marcos's father, Christos, who owns a clothing store, live in a village outside Limassol called Paramytha. It translates as "Fairy tale". "This is like a fairy-tale story," Baghdatis said. "There are so many emotions for me and for my parents too. It's amazing. Everything has come so quick, it's an unbelievable emotion for them and for me and I hope to feel those emotions again."
Hewitt, the 2002 champion, was the second favourite here this year. Statistics show that beating him in a Grand Slam in recent times has been the marker a champion. In eight of the last nine Slams, Hewitt has been defeated only by the eventual winner.
Hewitt was asked afterwards if he believes Baghdatis can win. "I don't think win it, no," said the 25-year-old from Adelaide. "I think Roger Federer will win. But reach the final? Yeah. Why not?" It was an honest sentiment and one that many will share. Baghdatis lost to Federer in the year's opening Grand Slam final in Melbourne.
Before this year, Baghdatis had never won a match on grass. "The only thing you should do on grass is play football," he had said. In the gloaming here, he gave a comprehensive demonstration that a reassessment is under way.
The Cypriot 18th seed played sublimely as he completely dominated the Australian from the start and roared into a 5-0 lead before either player had really broken sweat. Hewitt, who spurned his first three break points in the fifth game, at least avoided the indignity of losing the set to love before Baghdatis served out for his surprising lead. He took the first set in just 26 minutes.
A nation will still be celebrating today. Baghdatis is the only player from Cyprus, man or woman, to have played in a major or be ranked inside the top 100. He stands at No 16 now and the top 10 beckons. When he talked about the highs of his career last night, he mentioned Melbourne, and now this. Speaking about the lows, he said the worst thing in his life had been living without his parents as a teenager. He moved from Limassol to Paris at the age of 13 to train at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy on a scholarship. "It wasn't possible to play tennis in Cyprus. I stayed in Paris for seven years so I didn't see my parents much. It's difficult for a kid of 14 to go to another country on your own, and not knowing the language."
The second set yesterday could easily have gone his way, being two breaks up at one stage. "I was a bit tight after losing that second set." He rallied in the third, taking it to a tie-break, which was sealed with a marvellous backhand return.
He upped the pace and pressure again in the fourth set, showing real intent in the fifth game, serving two aces and one other unreturned serve, that at 128mph was his fastest delivery of the day. Hewitt made two unforced errors to lose the deciding game, but only after Baghdatis had drop-shotted and smashed him into submission.
Talking of his joyous, chest-thumping celebration at the end, he said: "That's the way I am. That's who I am. I love this game. I just go on the court and I love playing in front of so many people."
It had not seemed so even in Paris this year, where he made an early exit at the French Open and then said he was "full of doubts". Until a run to the semi-finals in the pre-Wimbledon event at Rosmalen on grass - where he lost to the eventual winner, Mario Ancic - he had never won a Tour match on grass.
Hewitt came into their first career meeting on the back of a nine-match winning streak on the surface. "It just didn't happen for me out there today," Hewitt said. "He came out hitting the ball very clean and I couldn't get into the match."
Asked if he could win here, Baghdatis said: "Why not? I'm in the semis of a Grand Slam. Everybody can beat everybody."
That maxim will be put to the test later this month when Britain go into their Davis Cup tie against Israel without their most experienced player after Greg Rusedski announced yesterday that a hip injury would keep him out of action for up to six weeks. The British No 1 will also miss the grass-court tournament in Newport, Rhode Island and the RCA Championships in Indianapolis.
Following a defeat to Serbia & Montenegro in Glasgow in April, Britain must beat Israel to avoid going into a play-off match against Ukraine to decide who will be relegated from the Europe-Africa Zone into the Davis Cup's third division. The Israel match is being staged on grass at Devonshire Park in Eastbourne from 21 to 23 July.
Rusedski suffered his injury last month while practising before the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club, where he withdrew in the first round while trailing to Antony Dupuis.
Yesterday at Wimbledon
* Roger Federer cruises past Mario Ancic, the last player to beat him at Wimbledon, in straight sets
* Daniel Nestor and Mark Knowles win Wimbledon's longest ever match, 23-21 in the fifth set
* Marcos Baghdatis upsets Lleyton Hewitt, but rain is the only winner in Rafael Nadal's match
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