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Baghdatis creates waves

Cyprus erupted into jubilant celebrations after Marcos Baghdatis made history by reaching the Australian Open final.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2006 16:07 IST

Cyprus erupted into jubilant celebrations after homegrown star Marcos Baghdatis made tennis history by reaching the final of the Australian Open in a five-set thriller.

Cypriots took to the streets, honking car horns and waving victory salutes after the unseeded Baghdatis fought back from two sets down to trounce Argentina's David Nalbandian.

No Cypriot has ever ventured so far at a top international sports tournament, let alone a tennis Grand Slam, and the country was glued to television sets for the three-and-half-hour Melbourne drama.

"The fact he came back from two sets down is nothing short of a minor miracle ... He's made believers of us all," said 35-year-old electrician Constantinos Gregoras.

"Baghdatis aiming for more wizardry in Oz," was the headline in the Cyprus Mail newspaper before his win.

Many couldn't believe the unseeded Baghdatis had made it all the way to the Grand Slam final after looking down and out mid-way through the game, which he eventually won 3-6 5-7 6-3 6-4 6-4 after a nail-biting pause because of rain at 5-4 in the final set.

Baghdatis, whose father is Lebanese and who left home at 14 for coaching in Paris, has been headline news in Cyprus since the tournament started and the biggest roar will be heard in this eastern Mediterranean island if he manages to lift the trophy in Sunday's final.

"Cyprus has found a new sporting hero, we have all become tennis experts," said Dinos Kozakos, a local sports writer. "What we lived through is unforgettable."

Giant slayer Baghdatis has been the revelation of the tournament, not only beating fourth-seed Nalbandian, but also second seed Andy Roddick, seventh ranked Ivan Ljubicic and winning an army of admirers with his commitment.

"I think everybody is going crazy back home. I had heard that a lot of people had stopped working and watched my last match (against Ljubicic) and I say thank you very much to everybody in Cyprus," said Baghdatis after his semi-final victory.

"I love my country, I love being a Greek Cypriot."

His victories have triggered wild street parties in his home town of Limassol, a resort on the south coast of Cyprus, where there are fewer than 6,000 registered players and a measly 54 courts.

Local commentators are already labelling him as the "greatest Cypriot sportsman of all time".

President Tassos Papadopoulos, who has exempted Baghdatis from national service to concentrate on his tennis and whose government offered to fly the family to Australia, hailed his success story after Thursday's win.

"I warmly congratulate our compatriot for his impressive advance to the Australian Open final," the President said a statement.

"His fighting spirit, patience, strength of character with which he competed today provides a shinning example for all those young men and women of our country."

First Published: Jan 27, 2006 16:07 IST