DUBAI // Marcos Baghdatis did not seem too anxious on Saturday after he was drawn to meet Juan Martin del Potro in the opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Rather, he sounded pretty assured.
"I think if it's tough for me, it's tough for the guys also to play against me," the Cypriot said confidently. "I take it that way. I think I have the game to beat anybody."
And last night, Baghdatis showed that was no empty boast as he stretched the Argentine to the limit.
The world No 36 even had three match points to cut short Del Potro's stay in Dubai, but the big-hitting world No 7 survived, prevailing 4-6, 6-4 and 7-4 in the deciding third-set tiebreak.
"I was fighting every time of the match," said Del Potro, who now meets India's Somdev Devvarman in the second round. "I play almost three hours, I think, to beat Marcos.
"He's a great player. He fights like me every point, and we made fantastic rallies.
"The crowd was enjoying the game. I'm so glad to beat him tonight in Dubai."
Baghdatis is no stranger to meeting the big names in the first round here in Dubai.
He has faced Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon in the opening rounds in the past.
And the 27 year old is no stranger to the big league either. He had climbed to No 8 in 2006, the same year in which he reached the Australian Open final.
His ranking may suggest otherwise, but Baghdatis still retains that magic and energy of old. And in his last tournament [in Rotterdam], he made short work of a top 10 player - Richard Gasquet. And an encore looked possible at the Aviation Club.
The last time Del Petro had lost to a player outside the top 20, it was, like Baghdatis, a world No 36: Jeremy Chardy in the third round of the Australian Open.
It seemed that unlucky number would strike again as the Cypriot broke the 2009 US Open champion's serve for a 3-1 lead in the third set.
Del Potro broke back in the seventh game, but serving at 4-5, the big Argentine was forced to dig deep as he went 15-40 down. He saved another match point in that game and then made sure he stayed ahead right through in the tiebreak.
"He had a chance to beat me when he was match point up," Del Potro said.
"I got lucky in that moment to go through to save with my serves and forehands. I played like fantastic forehands to keep playing this match.
"Then in the end, of course, you need [to be a] little lucky to win these kind of matches, and I think I played solid in important points in the third."
Del Potro, who reached world No 4 at the start of 2010 when a wrist injury halted his march, is feeling a bit of pain again in those wrists, but his doctor has given him "the confidence to play here, so I'm calm".
And he is now looking forward to the match against Devvarman and going as deep into this tournament as he can.
"The balls tonight were coming faster because of Marcos's game," Del Potro said.
"He plays very flat and he's fast on the baseline. He has a very good backhand down the line, and he played well.
"But tomorrow the match is going to be completely different. Devvarman plays slowly but different - slices, drop-shots. So I have to be focused to that and play my game."
If Del Potro wins that second-round match, he could meet Mikhail Youzhny or the qualifier Daniel Brands.
And for that game, he might have a special guest in the stands supporting him: Diego Maradona. "I think he's in Italy," Del Potro said when asked about his illustrious compatriot.
"He's supposed to come maybe tomorrow or Friday.
"Of course it's gonna be a pleasure, share some moments with him. I know him since some time ago, and always, when you have a few words from him, you get like, 'Oh, my God'.
"Diego means a lot for the Argentinian people and [it will] always be a pleasure just [to] say hi to him or share the moment or a coffee or something.
"He's so big, I mean, for all the people, I think."
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