By Andreas Vou
Another tournament, another first round exit for Marcos Baghdatis, this time falling to world no.49 Denis Istomin in straight sets (4-6 5-7 4-6). As in every year’s Australian Open, the passionate Greeks and Cypriots of Melbourne were eager to see their favourite man in action but a mere shadow remains of the Baghdatis they once saw valiantly competing with the greats of the game.
Eight years on from those magical performances which took him to the final of the competition, his supporters were enthusiastic as ever but injuries have evidently taken their toll on Baghdatis. Try as he might, he never managed to gain a grip on the game, eventually slumping to his 16th first round exit in 11 months.
He ran and he fought and he pulled off the occasional stunning winner, but it was not enough. The crowd tried to lift their man but no amount of cheering, clapping and singing could turn back the clock. Istomin, hardly a spring chicken himself at the age of 27, did everything a little more solidly, a little more patiently and, ultimately, a little bit better than the crowd’s darling. With a handful more winners and a few less errors, the world No.49 from Uzbekistan was edging his way to a second round appointment with Dmitry Tursunov, and Baghdatis was facing his first ever opening round defeat at the Australian Open.
A couple of years ago while he was losing in the second round to Stanislas Wawrinka, Baghdatis lost his patience and managed to smash four rackets in less than a minute. So angry was the Cypriot that he did not even bother to take the last two rackets out of their plastic wrapper. Losing hurt. It hurt a lot, and not even Marcos could bear it. This time around, he could not even dredge up that level of fury and, instead, took his beating squarely on the chin. Istomin was just too good for him and there was absolutely nothing the former finalist could do about it.
After an enduring encounter which went on for a little over two and a half hours, the Greek and Cypriot faithful could only look forward to next year’s edition, but they know there might not be many more. Provided he remains injury free and keeps within the necessary ranking, he will be back to lighten up the Melbourne crowd but living up to past glories is never easy, and it will be a far cry to see anything like the memorable performances of 2006 from the iconic Baggy.