It didn’t come easily for former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis, but his struggles to the finish line paid off with a 6-7 (0) 7-6 (4) 6-4 3-6 6-3 first round win over Albert Ramos of Spain on Monday.
From the moment the first set started, the 35th-ranked Baghdatis appeared to be fighting an uphill battle. He had to hold off a tenacious Ramos, and his own lacklustre play, to find a path to the second round.
What really hurt the 28th-seeded Baghdatis in the opening set was his serve. He was only able to get 14 of 41 first serves in the opening set into play. While he won the point on 12 of 14 of those first serves, that offered little comfort.
Baghdatis started to settle into the match in the second set, racing to a 4-1 lead. However, the 51st-ranked Ramos was unwilling to go away easily, pulling even to 4-4, and eventually forcing Baghdatis into another tiebreaker. This time, the tiebreaker worked to Baghdatis‘ favor.
At 3-3 in the third set, Baghdatis scored the service break with an exquisite and untouchable backhand winner down the line. Baghdatis celebrated the winning shot – and the service break that would enable the Cypriot to nail down the third set - by raising his arms in triumph to the crowd.
After exchanging early breaks in the fourth set, Baghdatis dropped his serve in the eighth game by flinging a forehand long. Ramos held serve to even the score to two sets apiece.
Being a feisty competitor wasn’t enough for Ramos, who was visibly cramping during the fifth set. The Spaniard surrendered his serve in the fourth game when at 30-40 he hit a backhand into the net. Baghdatis, who went up 3-1, held on to his lead to serve out the four hour, 15 minute match on his second match point with a backhand crosscourt volley into an empty court.
As an exhausted Baghdatis gestured to his boisterous supporters in the stands, Ramos was left to rue his exit from the tournament after a match where he’d won more points than his opponent (186-185).
Baghdatis arrived at this year’s Australian Open a very different man than he’d been in previous visits to Melbourne. Last year, he went from bachelor to family man. He married former Croatian player, Karolina Sprem. In October, the newlyweds welcomed daughter, Zahara, to their family.
The Cypriot has enjoyed his best Grand Slam results at the Australian Open. He reached the 2006 final, losing to Roger Federer, but his run to the decider came with three top 10 scalps - Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian - who all fell prey to Baghdatis’ wily ways.
Baghdatis owns a winner’s trophy from the Australian Open. He scored the junior boys’ title in 2003.
This Australian Open marks the first time that Baghdatis is seeded at a Grand Slam since Wimbledon in 2011.
The 51st-ranked Ramos, one of 19 Spaniards in the men’s draw, has only reached the second round at a Grand Slam once in seven appearances at the majors.