Baghdatis triumphs in five-set thriller over Safin | sports | Hindustan Times
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Baghdatis triumphs in five-set thriller over Safin

sports Updated: Jan 17, 2008 19:15 IST

Marcos Baghdatis held off a spirited comeback from Marat Safin to win a five-set thriller and set up a third round showdown with Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open on Thursday.

The Cypriot 15th seed, a runner-up to Roger Federer two years ago, began strongly but was drawn into a five-set dogfight with the 58th-ranked Russian before prevailing, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 in three hours and 12 minutes.

Baghdatis improved his five-set record to 8-3 in Grand Slams and will now take on Australian 19th seed Hewitt on Saturday.

"Marat played great tennis in the third and fourth sets and I just tried to stay focused and serve big in the fifth set," Baghdatis said.

"It was very important that I kept concentration and won points on my serve and Marat made a few errors."

Baghdatis is now 1-1 with Safin after losing their only other meeting at the Madrid Masters in 2006.

The Cypriot crowd-pleaser, then ranked 54, captivated crowds and the media at the 2006 Australian Open when he overcame seeds Andy Roddick, Ivan Ljubicic and David Nalbandian before going down to Federer in the final.

He was loved to death by Melbourne's voluble Greek community and the hangover continued up to last year's tournament where he was ambushed in the second round by Frenchman Gael Monfils.

Baghdatis was distracted by off-court events last time and the pressure took away his focus on defending the runners-up ranking points he earned in 2006.

Twelve months on and 22-year-old Baghdatis believes he can now better handle the attention.

"I am more experienced and fitter. Last year was tough coming back here but I can handle the pressure better now," he said.

He will have a big physical test to recover from the gruelling five-setter and back up against the tenacious Hewitt in two days.

Baghdatis played mistake-free tennis and drew Safin into error after both players had held their opening three service games.

The Cypriot broke through in the seventh game with a forehand winner on break point and served out the opening set in 32 minutes.

Safin's serve was again broken in the opening game of the second set with a wide forehand, but the Russian began to find his range and broke back to level in the fourth.

Safin fought off two break points in the fifth game but came under pressure in the ninth when on his third break-point he sent a backhand wide.

He hurled his racquet in anger at the net, but he didn't receive a code violation from the chair umpire.

Baghdatis had a break point against him as he served out for a two sets lead.

The Russian edged back into the match with a service break in the fourth game to lead in the third set.

Safin pulled off a spectacular lunging volley at the net to win the point and hold serve for a 5-2 lead.

He broke Baghdatis' serve with a deep forehand to take the set in the next game and keep in the match.

But the momentum swung Safin's way when he broke Baghdatis' serve in the second game to seize control of the fourth set and take the contest into a fifth set.

Baghdatis became so exasperated with the match slipping away that he whacked his head with his racquet.

But he gained a vital break in the second game of the deciding set to take the early initiative.

Safin was given a code violation warning for racquet abuse after he angrily slammed his racquet into the court.

Baghdatis held serve under pressure to take the epic match and knock Safin out of the tournament.