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What a difference a year makes for Baghdatis January 17, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Tennis Squash.

Marcos Baghdatis was joined by his father, brother and extended family and friends for this Australian Open. They can all go home early.

Baghdatis, whose celebrated run to the last final, beating three top 10 players along the way, was the story of 2006, crashed out of this year’s Open on Wednesday, losing 7-6 (5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-0 to Gael Monfils of France in a second-round match. Baghdatis lamented that he had too many hangers-on, and that he didn’t feel himself.

Last year, usually it was only his coach Guillaume Payre and girlfriend were in the stands when he won his six matches at Melbourne Park before being beaten in the final by Roger Federer.

“There’s a lot of pressure, not by media or stuff, it’s more like my group,” Baghdatis said after his four-set, first-round win over Rainer Schuettler. “I feel a bit of pressure from them. I’m not myself.”

Things didn’t get any better Wednesday for the 21-year-old Cypriot.

“I wasn’t here, I wasn’t in the match,” Baghdatis said. “Everything went so fast, I couldn’t control anything. I tried to fight, to find a way, but nothing was working.”

The stadium was packed, and the closed roof made the vocal fans even louder. Pockets of Baghdatis supporters in the blue-and-white Greek colors waved Cypriot flags, chanted, danced and clapped between every point.

Monfils got caught up in the moment, too. A comment from one fan had him laughing so hard as he served at 5-6 that he had to back off briefly to regain his composure. He went on to win the point, then fired an ace to force the tiebreaker.

Baghdatis, unshaven and with his usual ponytail held back by a bandanna, pumped his fist when he won the third set. He turned to his fans, and it looked like the magic might be back, especially when Monfils hobbled gingerly with a left foot injury and didn’t make a move for Baghdatis’ set-point ace. The 20-year-old Monfils took a medical timeout and received treatment from a trainer. Once he came back, he ran off the next six games with any apparent hindrance.

“He deserves it,” said Baghdatis. “Gael played a great match. He was very aggressive, playing deep all the time. I couldn’t find a solution.”

When asked about Monfils’ quick recovery from the injury, Baghdatis said: “I don’t want to judge anybody, he can do what he wants.”

Monfils, who plays good friend and compatriot Richard Gasquet in the next round, said his victory over Baghdatis was “magic.”

“Step by step, only one match,” Monfils said when asked if he could replicate Baghdatis’ performance of last year. “Maybe it’s a big win, but I have to do more now.”

Baghdatis, who came into last year’s Australian Open ranked 56th and is now 11th, admitted he had trouble coping with the pressure of his improved ranking.

“I’m the guy to beat, it’s not easy,” said Baghdatis. “It’s not the same pressure as before. I have to get used to it.” As he packed up to leave Melbourne Park, 10 days earlier than he did last year, he was philosophical. “It’s a positive,” he said. “There are more important things in life to losing a tennis match.”

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