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Magnificent Marcos lifts Cyprus September 14, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Tennis Squash.

Apart from a tricky stage at the World Rally Championships (WRC) and a modest football league, Cyprus has been off the international sporting map – until now. Cyprian sports fans are delighted to have a new sports hero, Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis.

The 21-year-old became the first Cyproit in the Open era to crack top 10 on the rankings and is also the first one to reach a Grand Slam final.

Despite a second round exit at the recent US Open, where he lost to Andre Agassi, his ground-breaking success has spurred a huge interest of the sport back home.

“I am overjoyed to see tennis is getting more popular on my motherland,” said the Cyproit from Limassol.

Before Baghdatis, there is no Cyproit player ever make the top 200 on the tour since the sport was officially introduced to its Panhellenic (National) Games in 1926.

After two years lingering outside top 50 since turned pro in 2003, the Cyproit enjoyed a miraculous rise this season, rising from world No 60 to the current No 8. He hit the headlines when he beat top players Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian and Ivan Ljubicic to reach the final Down Under and carried on the flow with a semi-final show at the Wimbledon Open.

The entertaining star “lifted a whole island with his racket” and received the Highest Distinction Award from the Cyprus Tennis Federation (CTF) after his dream run in Australia.

“I love my country and every time I win a big match, I feel I stay closer to my fans and Cyprus. It’s so great,” he said.

Football and motor racing have long been popular in the island country. People rush to the stadium watching the games of their national football champions Apollo and enjoyed the dramatic driving from WRC sensation Sebastien Loeb alongside the muddy track.

By contrast, tennis is a sport out of people’s sights. There is only six tennis schools and an estimated 5,000 people playing tennis around country.

The CTF started in 2000 and formulated a medium-term five-year strategic plan, sending its promising players to overseas academies for training and competitions. Baghdatis is one of the beneficiaries.

He trained at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Paris on an Olympic Solidarity Youth Development Programme Scholarship and soon paid it back to his home country tenfold.

The then 18-year-old Baghdatis captured Australian Open junior title and runner-up at US Open junior in 2003 and also had the honour of being the No 1 junior with nine junior titles under his belt at the end of that season. He soon developed himself as one of the hottest sports stars in Cyprus even before joining the pro tour.

“Of course I had a lot of joy to promote tennis in my country,” said the Cyproit. “I’d say tennis is already one of the most popular sports at home. More kids love playing tennis than before.

“It is getting better and better. When I played some good matches, people will care about tennis and talk about it. That’s why I’m quite happy to see.”

Despite the changes he brought to his country, Baghdatis has yet to win an ATP single’s trophy, but turns out that he is not worried.

“This year I’ve played many good matches, beaten many good players, I know my efforts have paid off,” he said. “I have had good weeks and then some bad weeks, but when I have been playing well I feel that I can really challenge some of best guys and be a Grand Slam champion.”

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