“Showman” Baghdatis Notches Another Grass Win

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He is one of the ATP tour’s biggest crowd pleasers. But under the showman facade there lies a highly pragmatic and focused individual. We look at Marcos Baghdatis and his start at Nottingham.

“Showman” Baghdatis Notches Another Grass Win

Nottingham seems one of Marcos Baghdatis’ favorite venues on tour. The 31-year-old clinched the Aegon Trophy there in 2014, a title that arguably kick-started his long but prosperous journey back to the top 100. Then last year in the rebooted Nottingham Aegon Open, the Cypriot shocked David Ferrer on his way to the semifinals. So on Tuesday, back on the territory where he has been so prolific, Baghdatis looked at home–fulfilling his typical role of crowd pleaser. Yet when asked about his rich history at Nottingham and any attachment he may have to the tournament after his 7-5 6-2 victory over Evgeny Donskoy, the Cypriot was under no illusions of the job at hand.

Preparing for Wimbledon

“For sure it’s a preparation for Wimbledon for me too,” he said firmly. “Of course it’s important I win every match I play here, I would love to. But also its small things that we’re looking to do on the tennis court, to find a way to feel good and get ready for Wimbledon.” He quickly returned to his “thrilled to be here” rhetoric, but his focused mentality was clear: there was to be no sentimentality at Nottingham, only an attempt to find form ahead of the Championships. There was a job to be done.

Last week in Halle, Baghdatis showed his fine grass court pedigree. He defeated #8 in the world Tomas Berdych. He also took down Dustin Brown, famous conqueror of Nadal at Wimbledon 2015. Against World #79 Donskoy on Tuesday though, the opening set proved a rather tightly-fought affair. Donskoy, by no means a grass court specialist, for a time looked as if he might pull off a major upset in the Aegon Open draw. Yet Baghdatis remained resolute, and the 31-year-old got the vital break to snatch the set 7-5.

Having overcome the tension of set one, Baghdatis clinched an early break in the second and began to give his game much more free reign. The exuberant playing style that has become associated with the Cypriot came into fruition, and with a game point at 2-1 he even had the audacity to try–and pull off–a diving half-volley drop shot winner that even the air-borne Boris Becker of the 1980s would be proud of. “Did anybody get that on video?” he asked the Nottingham crowd. As he left the press room he also joked, “I want footage of that dive. It would be confirmation of me being Superman” and he motioned the superhero with an outstretched fist.

Antics or Calculations

Baghdatis’ antics should not be interpreted as signs of complacency though. In his match against Donskoy, the World #40 remained on the front foot throughout. He tirelessly scampered from corner to corner as the somewhat one-dimensional baseline game of the Russian fruitlessly sought solutions. “I played a guy who doesn’t love particularly playing on grass,” Baghdatis pragmatically said of his opponent. “I think I played pretty well. Just me being able to play the way I should play on grass is going to make things a bit easier for me.”

At Nottingham however, it has too often not been in Baghdatis’ hands to play this desirable grass court style. In the 2013 Aegon Trophy and in the 2015 Aegon Open, when he looked poised for the title in the semifinals, injury forced the Cypriot to cut short his Wimbledon preparations. If he can remain fit, as his audacious dive seemed to suggest, then he must be regarded as one of the favorites for the title. After all, he doesn’t lack confidence on the Nottingham turf. “I feel undefeated here,” he chuckled. “I feel happy here, good here. Every time I come I come and play good tennis. I find myself a bit here every year.”

The Secret to Grass Success

With two impressive wins in Halle, and another one in Nottingham on Tuesday, it appears fair to say that Baghdatis has made a smooth transition from the clay to the grass. The secret behind it? “I don’t play much on clay anymore. That’s the way I handle things,” he replied. “The last two years I tried not to play so much on clay so I can be fresh mentally to compete as better as possible on grass. It paid off last year and the year before, and yeah it’s paying off this year.”

Looking at him on court, it would be easy to believe that Marcos Baghdatis has a rather laid-back approach to his tennis; he certainly paints a jocular figure. In the second set versus Donskoy, he allowed himself numerous wry smiles towards his enraptured audience. Even in moments of agitation, the World #40 often maintained the guise of showman. His stern chuntering and irritated bounces of his racket had a sense of the melodramatic, as if it was all part of the entertainer’s routine. “I feel happy here,” Baghdatis simply said.

And when quizzed on his off-court frivolities with James Ward–where both players had dressed up as Superman and Batman for a mini tennis exhibition – the #9 seed was equally jovial. “It’s nice to be able to do something else rather than playing tennis every day,” giving a wide grin. “Especially acting. I think I’m good at it.”

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