Why the Australian Open needs Marcos Baghdatis
Why the Australian Open needs Marcos Baghdatis

With local hopes dropping like flies, Australian Open organisers would have breathed a sigh of relief when Marcos Baghdatis made a safe passage into the third round on Wednesday.

To the uninitiated, Baghdatis's four-set win over Japan's Tatsuma Ito was just another result in the long list of matches that are crammed into the opening week.

But Cypriot Baghdatis is no ordinary player and his vocal supporters create a buzz around Melbourne Park that is unrivalled.

It's not just Baghdatis's infectious smile and dazzling stroke play that make him a fan favourite. His appeal is thanks mainly to Melbourne's huge Greek Cypriot community, a passionate group of fans who have made the Australian Open a home away from home for the 27-year-old.

Melbourne has a Greek population of around 800,000 people, the most of any city outside of Greece.

It ensures a raucous atmosphere every time Baghdatis walks onto court at Melbourne Park.

"I love tennis, I play tennis a lot so I come to see lots of players. But I love seeing Baghdatis," Melbournian Anthony Andara told Yahoo7 Sport before Baghdatis's win on Wednesday.

"I just love the atmosphere of the crowd. The Greeks and the Cypriots chanting like it's a soccer match. It's awesome."

Andara is one of thousands of Greek-Cypriot Australians who come to Melbourne Park every year just to cheer on Baghdatis.

Baghdatis first burst onto the scene at the 2006 Australian Open, when he lost the final to Roger Federer in four sets.

He has failed to make it past the fourth round since then, but he has always ensured a good time if not a long one when he comes to Melbourne.

He delivered one of the most memorable moments at last year's Open when he smashed not one but four racquets into on the bright blue surface of Margaret Court Arena.

Such an act of unsportsmanlike behaviour would normally draw the wrath of fans, critics and officials. But such is Baghdatis's charm, the only fallout was a $770 fine and a good chuckle from all concerned.

Even the man himself could see the funny side.

"I think it was kind of funny," Baghdatis said last week, 12 months after the incident which has since attracted over 1.4 million hits on You Tube.

"I can see that it wasn't a great attitude from my side, and that it was not really nice, but all the other players told me they thought it was funny.

"Everyone kept telling me they thought it was funny. But I want to promise my fans, and all the fans of our sport, that it will never happen again."

Andara was one of several hundred Greek Cypriot's watching that night as their hero's Open campaign went the same way as his racquets - in the bin.

"It was great, it was a good laugh," Andara says.

"At the end of it he was smiling as well. He's got a lot of charisma."

And in a tournament that is already missing the popular Rafael Nadal and all but two Australians, charisma is exactly what officials need.

Frenchman Gael Monfils delivered his fair share with some dazzling stroke play against Alexandr Dolgopolov on Tuesday night in probably the match of the tournament so far.

And Monfils's countryman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rarely fails to produce the extraordinary.

As for Baghdatis, he promises to continue entertaining his passionate supporters.

"I am who I am, and I think people like seeing something a bit different on the court," he said last week.

"I try to entertain a little bit, you know?

"I think we should be able to do a bit more of this on the court. The fans do like it, and I think it's fun."

Baghdatis will face No.4 seed David Ferrer on Friday, a player who, despite his obvious ability, wouldn't turn too many heads if he walked the length of Flinders St.

Thankfully for organisers, the lovable Baghdatis will ensure the fans continue to flood through the turnstiles.

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