Baghdatis rekindles love affair with Australian Open

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By Julian Linden

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Marcos Baghdatis is back on his magic carpet and taking everyone along for the ride.

Melbourne's large Cypriot and Greek communities have rediscovered their voice as the Mediterranean's favorite son is back in town.

It has been four years since Baghdatis lit up the Australian Open with his captivating run to the 2006 final but hopes are high he can make another charge this year.

He is finally clear of the injuries that have stalled his career over the past two seasons and his confidence is growing by the day.

His infectious grin returned when he won last week's Sydney International and now the distinctive chest-thumps have reappeared as the momentum starts to build.

He won his opening match at Melbourne Park without fuss or fanfare but faced a tricky second-round match Thursday against Spain's David Ferrer, the tournament's 17th seed.

No one has ever questioned Baghdatis's fighting spirit but he was almost down for the count when he lost the first two sets.


But just when it seemed all was lost, his loyal supporters issued their rallying cry and he rolled up his shirt sleeves and got to work, turning the match around to win 4-6 3-6 7-6 6-3 6-1 despite cramping up at the end.

"I saw he was a bit tired, so it helped me fight even more," Baghdatis said.

"I saw a window open, so that's how it went."

"Then my tennis came back. I started playing pretty good. I'm delighted I won." Few players generate the same excitement and support at the Australian Open than Baghdatis, who has dozens of members of his extended family in the country, and his extraordinary fightback against Ferrer has set the stage for an even bigger match.

His next opponent is Australia's Lleyton Hewitt and if their past matches are anything to go by, it could be a fight to the death.

Two years ago, the pair slugged it out in the third round of the Australian Open in a match that lasted almost five hours and did not finish until 4.34 a.m.

Hewitt won that time but Baghdatis has erased that from his memory bank after beating the feisty Australian in Sydney last week.

"I don't want to talk about that," he said. "I forgot about it. It's nothing.

"I remember the match, but you don't focus on one match. I would prefer a bit earlier, but I don't mind.

"Because I'm fully fit, I think I'm mentally fresh. That's what I learned the last couple of years.

"If I do that, I think I'll play great tennis. Stay mentally fresh and keep motivating myself every day."

(Editing by John O'brien)