South Africa: Baghdatis to Bulk Up Court Time With Trip to SA Open
8 January 2009
Johannesburg — FOR popular Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, playing in next month's South African Open tennis championship is as much an emergency measure as anything else.
Baghdatis, a popular figure on the world tour and who famously lost a fourth-round clash at the Australian Open against Roger Federer in 2005, is one of the top attractions for SA's first full ATP Tour event since 1995.
The tournament is at Montecasino from February 2-8.
Speaking yesterday from Melbourne, where he is playing in the popular Kooyong Invitational at the courts where the Australian Open used to be held before it moved to Melbourne Park, Baghdatis said that he needed a lot of time on court to get back into peak fitness as fast as possible after his injury-hit year in 2008.
"I would not normally play a tournament in the week after a Grand Slam," Baghdatis said.
"But after the back injury and the ankle I had a bad year last year and I need to start fast this year.
"To do that, I need to play a lot of matches."
He said he appeared to be over his injuries. "Basically I am feeling fit and healthy. Sometimes there are pains in the back but they are not a big problem. I need to play games so I can start feeling good on court and confident about being match fit."
Asked how he felt about playing at Johannesburg's punishing altitude (1760m) Baghdatis was short and to the point: "I haven't a clue. I have never played at that altitude before. I will be able to answer that question once I get there and start hitting a few balls."
He said he had felt good in his first-round match at the Brisbane International on Monday, although he lost in three sets -- 5-7 6-1 6-4 -- to Finn Jarkko Nieminen. Baghdatis got into that tournament as a wild card and he is now in Sydney for the Kooyong Invitational. "I felt good for the first one-and-a-half sets against Nieminen but then I got very tired," he said.
He was optimistic, however, that the newly launched ATP Tour, which has been divided into three segments and allows more time off for players, would help him by adding to his recovery time.
Looking ahead to the year's first Grand Slam at Melbourne Park, Baghdatis said he would regard making the second week of the Open as a major achievement.
"If I reach the second week I will be very happy because it will help me start the year well and make it easier to get back to the top," he said.
Asked whether he had trouble motivating himself again after all the injuries, he said simply: "It's my job to motivate myself and to play tennis. But it's not only a job. I love tennis.
"I have had so many good emotions over the years and have been involved in great matches against players like Novak Djokovic and Andre Agassi. I have played in front of lovely crowds, like those at Melbourne Park.
"Those are fond memories that keep me going and I am now also looking forward to visiting SA for the first time.
"Looking at the draw for the South African Open I think it will be a great event," he said, "and I have heard the casino hotel is unbelievable."
He was aware there was a large expatriate Greek Cypriot community in Johannesburg and looked forward to meeting and spending time "with my countrymen".
"I am also ready to meet any opponent and win any match. I have played against all the other top players (Frenchmen Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils, and Spaniard David Ferrer) and have had some wins, some defeats."
He realised that with his ranking in the high 90s he risked coming up against one of the top seeds in the first round.
"It would be tough to play a top player in the opening round, like I met Nieminen in Brisbane. But I just have to be patient and hope for some luck.
"Some players are easier than others but sometimes you need luck and hopefully I will have more luck this year."
Baghdatis said he had two tickets for the Soccer World Cup in SA in 2010 and, if he had time, he would be at some games. "Sure, why not? Soccer is my favourite sport outside tennis."