Perennial Australian Open crowd favourite Marcos Baghdatis is through to the second round of the Australian Grand Slam after dispatching of qualifier Grega Zemlja on Tuesday.
But the 21 seeded Cypriot needed five sets to edge past the Slovenian in the match which lasted three hours and 23 minutes and finished 3-6 7-5 6-1 4-6 6-2 before a capacity crowd.
“Today was one of my worst matches here in Melbourne,” Baghdatis told Neos Kosmos.
“But it’s the first round. It’s not easy.”
“The main negative was that I spent too long out there on court in Round 1. I left too much energy out there.”
In an unpredictable opening set, Zemlja broke the Baghdatis serve in the first game of the match, but was broken back when the Cypriot squared things up at 2-2.
Zemlja was not to be denied the ascendancy however, winning three consecutive games before emphatically sealing the opening set after 38 minutes with a huge forehand winner.
The second set saw both players hold serve until Baghdatis broke the Slovenian in the 12th game of the set.
After saving one set point, Zemlja could have sent the set into a tie-breaker but Baghdatis rescued the point, winning three consecutive points of his own to come storming back into the match by tying the scores at one set apiece.
Baghdatis’ serve strengthened and stayed accurate for the remainder of the 2.5 hour match. The Cypriot won 75% of first serves with 15 aces and tellingly, few double faults (three in total).
Baghdatis needed just 28 minutes to win the third set, claiming five consecutive games in the process.
Zemlja showed tremendous fight in the fourth set. Despite suffering an early break, the Slovene stayed in the set breaking back, after some good net approaches which finished off several lengthy rallies.
Leading 5-4 and down 30-0 to Baghdatis’ serve, Zemlja rattled off four points in a row to tie up what had developed into a struggle at two sets all after another 38 minute set.
In the fifth set Baghdatis broke his opponent in the first game, then doubled his lead with consecutive aces.
When Baghdatis opened a 3-0 lead after breaking his opponent for the seventh time in the match in a game that had 16 points, the result became a foregone conclusion.
Despite Zemlja rattling off three aces in a row to stay in the match, Baghdatis rounded off a 6-2 win in the fifth and final set.
As Marcos kissed the hallowed Melbourne Park surface which followed the now customary ole’s with the crowd, Baghdatis was given a hero’s send off as he left Show Court Three.
With 2009 US Open Champion Juan Martin Del Potro looming as a tough second round match, Baghdatis refused to speculate after the match on which of the two stars would go into the match with a greater expectation.
“I don’t want to say who is the favourite. He plays great tennis”
Del Potro is 4-1 since returning from his wrist injury late last year which kept him away from tennis for the majority of 2010.
But Baghdatis has been battling an injury of his own. A left groin injury forced the defending Champion and number two seed to withdraw from the Medibank International in Sydney.
“Its not easy having an injury the week of a Grand Slam,” Baghdatis told Neos Kosmos.
“But I feel ok after that three and a half hours. I have no pain at all, and I am running around like a rabbit!”