A fresh challenge awaits Marcos Baghdatis at this month’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
The gregarious Cypriot, who bowed out at 2019’s Wimbledon after a successful career which saw him rise to 8th in the world rankings plus be runner-up at 2006’s Australian Open, will take over as MC at the 13th edition of the star-studded pre-season tournament from December 16-18.
Crowd-favourite Andy Murray and the iconic five-time champion Rafael Nadal head an eight-man field, which also includes 2021 ATP Tour sensation Casper Ruud, world number five Andrey Rublev and 2020 US Open winner Dominic Thiem. 2021 US Open phenom Emma Raducanu and Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medallist Belinda Bencic also meet in an eagerly anticipated women’s clash.
Baghdatis, 36, will interview these hallowed athletes on court, plus interact with legion of passionate UAE tennis supporters off it. This is an opportunity he cannot wait to embrace.
“For me, it is something different and I’m so excited,” said Baghdatis, about the event which is making a welcome return at Zayed Sport City’s International Tennis Centre with full capacity.
“I love interacting with the crowd, fans and players. It is something different and the first time I tried something like this.
“I think I will love it and learn something from it. Definitely, I am very excited and cannot wait for it to start.”
Mubadala is an important starting point for next season, with the Australian Open scheduled to begin on January 17, 2022. This is especially true for Nadal and Thiem.
The Spaniard, a 20-time Grand Slam champion and icon of the sport, announced an early end to 2021 in August because of a left-foot issue. Former world number three Thiem comes into next year on the back of an injury ravaged campaign, prematurely ending prior to a cancelled US Open defence because of his wrist problem.
Baghdatis declared Mubadala will be especially vital for the celebrated duo.
He said: “It is important for all the players, but Rafa and Dominic will need to play matches before the Australian Open.
“With Rafa, he has surprised us so many times. Not playing before the Australian Open, but then going very deep into the tournament.
“Thiem, it is his first long injury. We saw Rafa before [but not Thiem].
“I definitely believe he will want to play a few matches in Abu Dhabi, before heading to Australia.”
Baghdatis’ playing experience at MWTC only stretched to January 2011’s quarter-final defeat to Tomas Berdych. But this is an experience which left its mark.
“Unbelievable event,” he replied when asked to recall his memories. “The venue is great for the players, the hotel is amazing, the facilities are amazing, you have some practice courts.
“It is a great preparation tournament for these guys to be there.”
He added: “It is a very fun event. The most-important thing is you get to play matches at the very top level after your off season.
“That is what you want at that moment of the year, before you head to Australia. The matches that you play are pretty competitive, there is a nice crowd and it is a great level for the beginning of the year.
“It is an amazing event for the players and for the fans to see the players being a bit-more relaxed.
“They are not playing the final of a Grand Slam. But it is nice for the fans to see the players a bit closer and get to interact with them.”
Star power is also plentiful in the women’s match. Raducanu garnered global attention when she became the first qualifier to claim a Grand Slam in the Open Era at Flushing Meadows, while ex-world number four Bencic showcased enduring quality by becoming the first Swiss female to triumph at the Games.
“Bencic maybe didn’t have the best year of her career, but the craziest because of winning a gold medal,” Baghdatis said. “That is just amazing.
“Emma [Raducanu], what a story we have witnessed in the last couple of months. I think it very exciting to see those two girls after having the best emotions of their lives, the best moments of their careers.
“I am excited to see how they react in the next year and how they are playing.”
A change of pace has been encountered by Baghdatis since he hung up his racket two years ago.
Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina came under his guise as a coach, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This has left him to explore new opportunities, including at MWTC, plus try to “improve my dad skills.”
“In the beginning before COVID, it was great,” Baghdatis said. “But COVID has made it, like everybody, life a bit different let’s say…
“I enjoy it because I have three kids and a lovely family. I’m trying to improve my dad skills and being a better husband.
“They say they are loving it, so it’s great. Taking care of the kids, I always wanted a family and to spend so much time with them is amazing – I just love it.”
He added: “COVID came and it just wasn’t for me the right moment to travel anymore. Maybe in the future we will see if I go into coaching, but my goal is to stay in tennis internationally and also locally in Cyprus.
“I want to try and give back to a sport I love and, especially, the young kids who want to play professional tennis.
“I just want to be there for them. We have a couple of projects coming, maybe launching a tennis academy in Cyprus.”
Mubadala is yet to gain an official spot on the ATP Tour, despite its prominence and popularity. Baghdatis was sure this status will come in time.
“Why not? There is no reason not to,” he replied.
“Just take the right steps and I think if it becomes an ATP Tour event, I think it will be an amazing tournament.”
Tickets, starting from Dh100 for adults and Dh50 for children, are available from ticketmaster.ae and Virgin Megastores across the UAE. In line with current protocols, measures will be in place within the stadium and throughout the Tennis Village to ensure the health and safety of fans, players and officials.
Additionally, in line with the latest government guidelines the Championship will welcome fans and spectators with green status on the Al Hosn app and a negative PCR test result with 96-hour validity across three days of exciting tennis action, in a safe and secure environment.