x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Cypriot Baghdatis hopes to be 'local' hero in Abu Dhabi

The former Junior World Champion and grand-slam finalist is hoping to benefit from his homeland's transcontinental location at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.

Marcos Baghdatis is eager to start his campaign.
Marcos Baghdatis is eager to start his campaign.

ABU DHABI // Cyprus may be a member of the European Union, but its closest and largest land mass is undoubtedly in the Middle East.

And next week, when the Mubadala World Tennis Championships get under way at Zayed Sports City, Marcos Baghdatis, the former Junior World Champion and grand-slam finalist, is hoping to benefit from his homeland's transcontinental location.

Baghdatis, ranked No 20 in the world, will be making his first appearance in the UAE capital when he meets Tomas Berdych, the world No 6, next Thursday.

The Cypriot predicts a tight battle with his Czech counterpart, but he is hoping the city he has become increasingly aware of harbours residents ready to accept him as one of their own.

"It will be my first visit to Abu Dhabi, but I've heard so much about the place and how it's developing as a world-class sporting destination," Baghdatis said from his home in Limassol, where he is preparing for the new season.

"Over the years, I've had some great battles with Tomas and I'm expecting another very close match, but hopefully the fans will see me as the 'local player' and show me their support."

Baghdatis tumbled down the rankings in 2009, dropping 140 places from a career-high No 8, but last year - after a humbling by Berdych in his season-opening tournament in Brisbane - he started to recapture his old form.

He reached the semi-finals (or better) at five events, including in Dubai, where he lost to eventual winner Novak Djokovic at the Aviation Club, and he won his fourth ATP Tour title at the Medibank Invitational in Sydney when he defeated Richard Gasquet 6-4, 7-6.

Likewise, Berdych will remember 2010 fondly. Having turned 25 in September, the powerful right-hander has used the past 12 months to sear his name into the minds of tennis followers. A semi-final appearance in the French Open at Roland Garros was followed up less than a month later by reaching his first grand-slam final on the grass of Wimbledon.

"In 2010 my game took another positive step forward and I was pleased with the progress made during a satisfying season," Berdych said. "For sure, more people will be looking at me, but I'm ready for that - and the start of the new season - with my debut in Abu Dhabi."

Berdych sees the three-day knock-out tournament as the perfect way to increase the intensity of his training ahead of the Australian Open, which starts in Melbourne on January 17.

"I've been working hard in preparation for the year ahead and Abu Dhabi sounds like the ideal place to get match-fit and check out the form of the other players," he said. "Matches with Marcos are always tough, which is exactly what I need."

With Rafael Nadal awaiting the winner, both players are understandably keen to progress and test their games against the world's top-ranked player.

"I cannot wait to start my season in Abu Dhabi against a quality field," Baghdatis said.

* Compiled by Gary Meenaghan with agency