By Andreas Vou
CYPRUS star Marcos Baghdatis will take on Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan in the first round of the Australian Open.
After losing in the opening round of the Heineken Open in Auckland on Wednesday, Baghdatis will aim to bounce back against the world number 49, which will not be easy by any means.
Baghdatis’ defeat against unheralded American Steve Johnson a few days ago was his 15th first round exit since February last year.
The loss also resulted in a drop of 22 places in the rankings, taking him from 87th at the start of the year to 109th place, making it his lowest ranking since August 2009.
Istomin goes into the first round of the Australian Open on the back of pulling off a huge upset against 7th seed Marin Cilic in the Apia International Sydney, defeating the Croat 6-3, 6-4.
Big things have been expected of Istomin over the years but the Uzbek has not lived up to those expectations in the major tournaments.
His best run in Melbourne came in 2010 when he reached the 3rd round, eventually losing out to Novak Djokovic in straight sets.
Baghdatis, 28, famously made his name at this tournament in 2006, reaching the final after a series of impressive displays, entertaining the public with his shot-making ability as well as his humour and charisma.
He is probably better known now for another on-court spectacle – angrily smashing four rackets in less than a minute at last year’s event, an act which went viral across the web.
The Cypriot will need to focus on keeping his mind intact, as well as his rackets, in order to have a decent run in this year’s tournament.
However he will be encouraged by the fact that he has won his past two meetings with Istomin, one at a Tashkent Challenger in 2009 and later in 2010 in the Moscow semi-finals.
Baghdatis reached the third round last season and anything less than that this time around will result in a further drop in the rankings.
The tournament gets underway on Monday with the first round ties concluding the following day.
The winner of the Baghdatis/Istomin clash will face either Dimitry Tursunov of Russia or Michael Russell of the USA in the second round, with three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic probably lying in wait in the third round