Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis was the first Hellene to reach a grand slam final when Roger Federer beat him in the 2006 Australian Open decider. Baghdatis’ popularity was a precursor for the adulation now garnered by fellow Hellene, Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Baghdatis was so popular he even had a souvlaki named after him by the stalwart Greek restaurant in Lonsdale Street, Stalactites. At the time Stalactites manager Nicole Papasavvas told Neos Kosmos that the souvlaki dish named after Baghdatis had been created to pay tribute to his outstanding performance at the Australian Open and the warm relationship with the Stalactites staff during his time in Australia.
Baghdatis who won the Australian Open boys’ title in 2003 qualified to reach the fourth round before playing Federer in 2005.
In 2008, he featured in a famous moment as part of the five-set epic against Lleyton Hewitt which finished 4.34am, the latest ever for a grand slam tennis match.
The 37-year-old, who will play in the Legends tournament later this week, underscored the support he had from the Greek community in Victoria, as a key factor in his career-best efforts in Australia.
“From the first moment that I came here, something clicked with the city, with the people, with the fans, I just loved it here,” he said.
“They have a big community that follows their Greek athletes and that is what they are doing to Stefanos too, which is great to see.
“This is where I had my best emotions, the best success of my career. To be here on an invitation, there is no way I could have said no. It is an honour to be back.”
The late finishes at Melbourne Park in the first week of the Australian Open has aroused memories of the third-round clash between Baghdatis and Hewitt.
Andy Murray and Thanasi Kokkinakis fell 30 minutes shy of setting a record in a match that finished at 4.05am last Friday.
On Monday morning, Victoria Azarenka progressed to a quarterfinal against Jess Pegula by defeating Lin Zhu in a match that finished after 2am.
Like these matches, the decision to begin the game between two former Australian Open finalists in Baghdatis and Hewitt in 2008 near midnight created controversy.
The semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2008, Baghdatis was frustrated at the time given the hour but said the memories he has of the match are among his most treasured now.
“I remember after that match, going back to the hotel and people are coming down to breakfast and it was an experience,” he said.
“It is something you don’t see every day. I lived it. That is how I see it in my head now. Of course … it is tough when you are on tour, but shit happens.
“I feel honoured, especially to play a long match like that against Lleyton Hewitt and (play in) the latest match ever.”
In a fit of madness in 2012 during a match against Stan Wawrinka, Baghdatis smashed four racquets. The outburst was considered out of character given the player’s agreeable nature.
Baghdatis was fined $1250 for an incident, and, after his initial outburst, he took three racquets from his bag, with two of them still wrapped in plastic, and demolished them on the court.
Asked whether he was asked about his appearance in the Australian Open final or the racquet smashing, Baghdatis said, “More the final, but the racquet does come a lot. A lot. Yes”.
The 37-year-old Baghdatis believes that Tsitsipas, who has reached three semi-finals in Melbourne, will set a new mark for Greek tennis.
“If he keeps fit and is not injured … he is going to become the number one in the world soon,” he said.