When Marcos Baghdatis looks back at his tumultuous 13-year career, he pinpoints his decision to marry his wife Karolina Sprem as the real turning point for him.
Baghdatis, who faces Stan Wawrinka in Saturday’s Dubai Duty Free final searching for a first title since 2010, has experienced all the highs and lows a player could possibly imagine.
He made the Australian Open final in 2006, became a top-10 player, plummeted in the rankings in several injury-plagued seasons before climbing back into the top-50 last year.
The popular Cypriot considered retiring from the sport, having suffered one injury after another but says Sprem, who is a former top-20 WTA player, urged him to continue and starting a family with her made all the difference to Baghdatis.
They got married mid-2012, had their first child Zahra a few months later and welcomed their second daughter last December.
The 30-year-old Baghdatis went back to the Challenger Tour in 2014 to kick-start his career and last season, he reached his first ATP title in four years, in Atlanta to finish 2015 ranked inside the top-50.
In front of a roaring crowd that supported him last night, Baghdatis came back from a set and a break down to defeat sixth-seeded Feliciano Lopez 3-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1 and reach his first Dubai final.
“It’s been a long road for me the last three, four years. It’s all about fighting, getting back to where I want to be. Last year we set some goals to be top-50 with my team. I achieved that. Now I’m moving forward,” an elated Baghdatis said on Friday.
“I think I have still a lot to improve on, but the most important thing is health-wise I’m very, very good. I don’t have any injuries and health problems that I had.
“Yeah, I’m happy I’m back on the court and winning. It’s a nice feeling. I’m going to work even harder so it continues.
“I have definitely thought of retiring. That’s where my wife was there and was very strong, made me take the right decisions.”
Asked what the turning point was for him, Baghdatis said: “Marrying my wife, I think. Having her around. It’s amazing to have her around because she played tennis. She was top-20. She knows how it is. It’s like having a coach at that level because she went through it psychologically.
“So I think that’s the turning point. Then starting to have a family. We have two children right now. But since we had the first one, your mind changes a bit. You start to think more and be more organised and more disciplined in what you do.”
Baghdatis said the goal for this season is to re-enter the top-30. His run to the final this week already takes him to around 38 in the rankings and he knows he could go even higher than that target he and his team had set for him.
“I want to put a realistic goal because I’m a guy who gets really frustrated early. I’m not so patient,” he said with a smile.
“No, I need to put goals that are realistic. I’m 30 years old, you know. It’s not so easy on the body anymore.”
Three of the four semi-finalists in Dubai were 30 or above and five of the world’s top-10 are also in that age bracket.
Does the fact that so many over-30 players are doing so well right now give him faith that he can still achieve great things in the sport?
“In one way, yes,” said the Cypriot, whose last of the four titles he has won came in 2010.
“But I think it’s how the person feels. It’s not only their age. It’s how your body reacts after tough trainings, after tough matches. I think that’s the key of deciding whether you can or not.
“So, yeah, I mean, it’s for sure good seeing other guys winning tournaments over 30, last year we had a lot of guys over 30 winning tournaments.
“To see them winning a tournament, it’s also nice for me because it gives me some more motivation and belief that I can do it.”
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Nick Kyrgios has made fixing his back injury a top priority in order to be ready for Australia’s Davis Cup tie against the United States in Melbourne next weekend.
The 20-year-old Aussie was forced to retire from his semi-final in Dubai against Stan Wawrinka Friday due to a back issue and admits he struggled throughout the week with food poisoning and a lingering hip problem.
Kyrgios was on an eight-match winning streak having won his first career title in Marseille last Sunday before flying to Dubai and make a run to the semi-finals on his tournament debut. He now has another quick turnaround as he is scheduled to play Davis Cup in six days. Kyrgios had said earlier in the week that it was going to be a “tough ask” for himself Bernard Tomic to be fresh for Davis Cup with his team-mate still in action in Acapulco.
“I’ve got to get my back right first,” Kyrgios said Friday. “I’m going to fly home as soon as I can.
“It’s (back) been bothering me the last couple of days. It was bothering me yesterday when I played Tomas (Berdych), as well.
“I had a bit of a hip injury at the start of Marseille. That was still bothering me a little bit. I was struggling with a couple of niggles.”
Asked to assess his week as a whole in Dubai, Kyrgios had mixed feelings. “It was a bit of a struggle, to be honest. I mean, it was obviously a good result, but I have been feeling so bad every day. I’ve got some viral infection, as well. So I feel like s***,” he explained.
Against Wawrinka Friday, Kyrgios managed to fight back from a double-break down in the opening set before getting broken again and losing it. He admits he was nowhere near his serving best.
“I don’t really know how I broke back, to be honest. I was struggling,” said Kyrgios, who will re-enter the top-30 when the new rankings come out on Monday. “I was never going to be able to make too much of an impact in the match with the way I was serving.”
Still, Kyrgios has lots to be happy about having posted great results in back-to-back events. The probation period that was handed to him by the ATP for his inappropriate comments towards Wawrinka and his girlfriend back in August also came to an end last Wednesday and he no longer faces suspension.
Stan Wawrinka reached his maiden Dubai final after Nick Kyrgios retired from their semi-final on Friday while trailing 6-4, 3-0.
Wawrinka, who prior to this week had never won a match on either of his previous two appearances in Dubai, entered his 22nd career final and is in search of a 13th title.
Kyrgios, who received back treatment during the match, fought back from a double-break down in the opening set but could not keep up his level and was forced to make the decision to retire after 44 minutes of play.
“Obviously I couldn’t really serve anywhere near my full capacity today. I mean, he was playing great, anyway. He was playing really aggressive off the second shot of his serve,” said Kyrgios after the match.
“I don’t really know how I broke back, to be honest. I was struggling.
“I just put a couple balls in and he made a couple of errors. Yeah, I mean, I was never going to be able to really make too much of an impact in the match with the way I was serving.”
Only two men have managed to win a Dubai singles title in the past seven editions – Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. But with Federer missing the tournament due to a knee injury and Djokovic forced to withdraw from his quarter-final with an eye infection, the event will get a new champion on Saturday.
It was a gloomy Friday with an overcast sky and light rain that hit most parts of the emirate.
Kyrgios, who won Marseille last week and was on an eight-match winning streak, had posted three victories over top-10 players in the last seven days and was gunning for a fourth.
Wawrinka, making his first Dubai appearance since 2008, was sharp on his returns from the get-go and a wide backhand from Kyrgios saw the Swiss get two break points.
Kyrgios slammed a 208km/hr ace to save the first and a 195 ace to save the second. He held for 1-0 with an ace as well.
Wawrinka held with a forehand winner which earned him applause from Kyrgios.
Kyrgios sent a sharp-angled forehand wide to face two break points and he double-faulted to get broken in game three.
The young Aussie struggled on serve and an erratic forehand that sailed wide saw him go down a double-break 1-4.
But Kyrgios got one of the breaks back immediately and held for 3-4. He received some treatment on his back during the changeover but did not request a medical timeout.
Kyrgios attacked the net to get a break point in game eight but Wawrinka responded with a 212km/hr ace. The Aussie hit a backhand return winner to get a second break opportunity but Wawrinka ventured up front to save it. Wawrinka mis-hit a forehand to face a third break point and this time Kyrgios did not falter, breaking with an inside-out forehand drive to draw level at 4-4.
A poor forehand unforced error from Kyrgios saw him face two break points and he struck another error to get broken.
Wawrinka got his first set point on a wide forehand from Kyrgios and he took a one-set lead, in 36 minutes, on a long return from his opponent.
Two poor drop shots from Kyrgios and a wide bullet forehand saw the world No33 get broken in the first game of the second set. He was evidently tired and potentially in pain as it was clear he was trying to end the points as quickly as possible.
Some great defence from Wawrinka, topped off with a signature cross court backhand winner helped the Swiss consolidate the break.
A slew of Kyrgios errors gave Wawrinka a second break and the 20-year-old made the decision to retire from the match right after that.
Wawrinka has been in search of his best game from the moment he arrived to Dubai and has been improving with each match throughout the week.
Asked if he feels he has reached his best form yet, Wawrinka said: “Not yet, but I’m in finals so there is one more match to play my best tennis. That’s the most important.
“For sure if you look from the beginning of the week I was not playing great at all. I was trying to find a way. But that’s when I can still improve and I’m happy I did this week, not playing some great tennis, frustrated during matches but still fighting and trying to find solutions to win more matches during the week to play better.
“I started to feel way better already yesterday. I feel that on the court I start to feel better. I know what to expect. I’m moving better. I’m a little bit more relaxed and my strokes are going better.”
And whether he was surprised at how the match ended, the 30-year-old Swiss added: “Yes and no. No, because when you see during the match, you can imagine that it can happen something because he wasn’t really there from the beginning, wasn’t serving his best.
“You never know what to expect, because again, as you see when he broke me back at 3-4 he was playing really well. That’s why I was focused on myself.”
Wawrinka will face Marcos Baghdatis after the Cypriot defeated Spain’s Feliciano Lopez 3-6, 7-6 (7/1), 6-1.