Tennis star Marcos Baghdatis back to Vancouver Open to try to recapture magic

 

 
 
 
 
Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus returns a shot to Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland during their 2013 U.S. Open men's singles match last year. His five-set defeat to world tennis great Andre Agassi at the 2006 event became a key chapter in Agassi's autobiography.
 

Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus returns a shot to Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland during their 2013 U.S. Open men's singles match last year. His five-set defeat to world tennis great Andre Agassi at the 2006 event became a key chapter in Agassi's autobiography.

Photograph by: STAN HONDA, AFP/Getty Images

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When you carry your country’s flag into the stadium at the Olympic Games, as Marcos Baghdatis did in 2012, you’re a pretty big deal in sports.

Granted it was just for the smaller pond of Cyprus, where he was born and still spends much of his time, but he’s been a big deal in the tennis world for many years now, even though he’s still only 29.

But he’s returning to play the Odlum-Brown Vancouver Open Challenger this week largely because it’s something of a lucky charm for him. He went on a tear after winning 6-4, 6-4, over Xavier Malisse in the final here back in 2009, and he’s hoping to replicate that this year so he can raise his ranking amid his prep for the U.S. Open — where he has been involved in some of that Grand Slam event’s most memorable matches.

It was there in 2006 when he provided Andre Agassi with his last win on the pro tour, a marathon five-setter with all manner of twists and turns. Baghdatis always hears about it because it became a focal point of the American star’s book. He describes how lying side by side, exhausted on the massage table afterward, the two talked about what a battle it had been and touched hands briefly as a salute to the epic show they had staged, and as an acknowledgment of how each felt the other’s emotion at the outcome.

“I was sent that chapter before the book came out and it was a huge honour for me for Andre to start his book with our match at the U.S. Open,” said Baghdatis, from London, before departing for Vancouver. “I had some huge emotions in that tournament. It was a great battle and a lot of fun; and it was nice because of the story, but I would have preferred to have won the match. You play to beat these guys.”

Sitting at 104th in the rankings at the moment, he’s had health issues. But he’s hoping Vancouver is his springboard, as he plays another Challenger after this, then goes to Winston-Salem before the Open in New York.

“I love the tournament in Vancouver, there’s a good vibe there and honestly, I’m OK,” he says of his health. “I was struggling a bit at the end of last year after the U.S. Open, as I had some problems with my ankles and I also had some health problems this year which came in the way. I can’t say I’m 100 per cent at my best, but I’m trying to get back to the level I can be as a tennis player. I still believe I have potential to play good tennis and make some damage to the top players in the world.”

Baghdatis is one of the few players in the world who has genuine charisma on court, and it seems to come to the fore whether he’s playing a first round here in Vancouver or in a semifinal at the U.S. Open. He has a quirky way of engaging the fans, almost enlisting them to his side if they’re neutral at the outset. He has an indescribable knack for somehow communicating the fun he’s having on court to the spectators, a very special energy he gives to the fans and then receives back from them. It’s one of the reasons tournament officials and anyone who knows the game was delighted to hear he was coming back.

“I think the crowd is the thing that makes me want to wake up every day and play,” he says. “I love this sport because of the fans, because of the emotions they give you during the match, and that’s the best feelings you can have as a tennis player. There’s nothing better than that.”

That’s why he’ll try to keep playing as long as he can.

“It depends on what the body tells me. I’m trying to play less tournaments to keep the body healthy and to be able to make full years without playing so much, and I think if I can do that I can last another five or six years. I don’t know what level, but we’ll take that as it comes. “

When the end arrives he’ll almost certainly remember how the win here led to him gaining enough momentum to beat both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in 2010 at a time when they were both No. 1 in the world, perhaps the highlight of his many other accomplishments. Then again, it may well be the Greek Cypriot will most remember lugging that flag at the London Olympics.

“It’s the best thing an athlete could ask from a country and one of the best moments of my professional career. It was an honour and a great emotional feeling.”

tgallagher@theprovince.com

 
 
 
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Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus returns a shot to Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland during their 2013 U.S. Open men's singles match last year. His five-set defeat to world tennis great Andre Agassi at the 2006 event became a key chapter in Agassi's autobiography.
 

Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus returns a shot to Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland during their 2013 U.S. Open men's singles match last year. His five-set defeat to world tennis great Andre Agassi at the 2006 event became a key chapter in Agassi's autobiography.

Photograph by: STAN HONDA, AFP/Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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