This year’s Australian Open was a big anniversary for Marcos Baghdatis. He celebrated ten years since reaching his one and only Grand Slam final, a moment beautifully cemented as Cyprus’ greatest-ever sporting achievement.
The ten years since that defeat to Roger Federer have been littered with difficulties for the popular star. A number of serious injuries disrupted Baghdatis’ rhythm and progression and there has always been a feeling that he never hit the heights he could have.
In the first two months of 2016, however, the popular Cypriot has shown a newfound determination to compete at the top of the men’s game and his tournament results have seen him rise back into the top 40 for the first time since 2013, much to the delight of tennis fans across the world.
Marcos Baghdatis breaks into Top 40 for first time since June 2013. pic.twitter.com/hxMJLPfvTF
— Seven Oaks SB (@SevenOaksSB) February 29, 2016
His season didn’t begin until the Australian Open where the Melbourne crowd were treated to a mouth-watering match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The two showmen did not disappoint in a four set encounter in which Baghdatis’ lack of match practice eventually proved decisive.
In both Montpellier and Rotterdam, Baghdatis was defeated by eventual champions Richard Gasguet and Martin Klizan, respectively. However, his 6-1 5-7 7-6(5) defeat of world #16 David Goffin in the opening round in Rotterdam demonstrated that the Cypriot was back and meant business.
After a week’s break he took to the Dubai hard courts for his fourth tournament of the year. It was here that the 30-year-old rolled back the years, proving that a fire and passion still burns inside of him.
He did not drop a set on his way to the semifinals, comfortably dispatching Viktor Troicki, Vasek Pospisil, and Roberto Bautista-Agut. In the semifinals he dropped the opening set against Feliciano Lopez but that famous Baghdatis spirit shone through as he recovered to take a second set tie-break before storming through the final set, 6-1.
— ATP World Tour (@ATPWorldTour) February 29, 2016
In the final Baghdatis faced a new kind of challenge in Stan Wawrinka. Despite putting up a brave fight, the world number #4 was too strong, defeating the Cypriot 6-4 7-6(13) in a remarkable tie-break. He may not have added to his four ATP titles, but reaching only his second ATP final in four years will have been an uplifting experience for the man who has suffered so many fitness woes over the years.
Not only has the Cypriot re-found his form in recent weeks, he has also broken a rather old record set by Bjorn Borg. The previous record for consecutive singles Davis Cup victories, set by Borg, was 33 wins. With his four victories this week in Estonia, he moved up to 36 consecutive victories to comfortably smash the record.
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) March 3, 2016
The run has to be taken with an obvious pinch of salt. Cyprus has flitted between Groups II and III during his 13-year-run and, with the greatest respect, he has never had to face a particularly high calibre of opposition. Wins over Malek Jaziri, Jarkko Nieminen, Rui Machado, and Blaz Kavcic probably stand as his most notable conquests. Even so, to maintain that level of consistency over so many years should not be scoffed at.
So where, after so many injuries and moments staring into the barrel of retirement, did the Cypriot find the motivation to keep on going? He explained that family was the key driving force in a recent interview with the ATP.
“Karolina [Sprem – Marcos Baghdatis’ wife and former WTA player] was very important because she also played tennis. She also went through a career and she had some injuries herself. She helped me a lot first of all to have someone to listen to me, who felt what I’ve been through.”
The couple have two daughters, the second born in the most recent off-season and Baghdatis believes the birth of his second child has had an impact on his on-court mental state.
“I think some pressure comes off. If I lose, I go home tomorrow to my child. So you don’t get too stressed during the match or before it. If I lose today, tomorrow I’m home to hug my daughter, which is one of the best things in the world. Really it takes a lot of pressure off you.”
Fatherhood certainly seems to have become a catalyst for an improvement on form on the ATP Tour in recent years. Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are the two shining examples whilst Andy Murray’s early Davis Cup form suggests parenthood may benefit him as well. The chances of Baghdatis reaching those heights are unlikely but a return to the top #20 is not completely out of the question.
He continued, “Last year so many 30 and over guys won the tournaments. It’s encouraging to see. They’re playing their best tennis and I think I am playing my best tennis. I think I can play even better and be more consistent. That’s what we’re working for. Now it’s a matter of staying fit. I hope to play another year in the Top 50 and maybe make the step to Top 30 which is the goal.”
— Dubai Tennis Champs (@DDFTennis) February 27, 2016
Top 30 seems a perfectly reachable goal for the Cypriot, who already sits in 39th in the rankings, just 260 points away from#30 Philipp Kohlschreiber. The real challenge, as it has been throughout his career, is to keep himself away from the doctor’s room.
The Cypriot has decided not to travel to Indian Wells but should be back in action in Miami where he will continue his quest to return to the top 30.