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Marcos Baghdatis too strong for Halle hero Dustin Brown

Marcos Baghdatis ponders over point.
by Kate Battersby
Monday 23 June 2014

Court 12 was so brimful with charisma when Marcos Baghdatis and Dustin Brown faced one another in the first round that you wondered if there would be room for all that magnetism and the tennis too.

Brown came into this match on the up after his spectacular demolition of Rafael Nadal on the grass of Halle earlier this month, and many would have favoured him to down the former world No.8, who is now ranked 119 and needed a wild card to secure his place in the draw. But in the event a typically flamboyant display from the 6ft 5in German came at too great a price. It was Baghdatis who won 6-4, 7-5, 2-6, 7-6(4).

At 5-2 in the fourth set Brown was on the brink of taking the match into a decider, where he would be carrying all the momentum with him. Yet somehow the contest slipped from his grasp, in an echo of events at Halle where he ultimately lost to Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarter-finals despite holding five match points. It was all the more ignominious that Brown had announced beforehand his stated intention to reach the second week here. In the event the world No.79 fell short of even the second round. Exactly the qualities which make him so watchable – his desire to close down rallies early and avoid extended points – led to his downfall.

“Other players are afraid of me, not the other way around,” declared Brown before the match. But the fact is that even when his form is on the up, it can be anybody’s guess where his tennis will take him from one match to the next.

It was a slight oddity of this first-round match that it felt a little like the old hand – Baghdatis – facing down the new young gun, in the form of Brown. But in fact the German is the older by six months, with Baghdatis having turned 29 just last Tuesday. And while many were talking pre-match about Brown’s first round win over the 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt here 12 months ago, perhaps the more telling statistic is that he did not secure a win over a top 10 player until he beat John Isner in April.

Baghdatis, in contrast to the German’s headline-grabbing play of the last few weeks, has spent three months of this year going back to basics at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, having finished 2013 out of the top 50 for the first time since 2008. He is attempting to rejuvenate his game – but strictly on his own terms. He has no coach, because he wants the freedom to make his own decisions on court, and he also wants to travel less in order to give more time to his family – the former world No.17 Karolina Sprem and their daughter Zahara.

Brown was a picture of cool walking on court, with a giant set of scarlet headphones clamped to his ears. But it all went wrong in the very first game. A double fault and two forced errors saw him broken inside a minute, after which Baghdatis held to love. All Brown’s fight produced errors and winners in dangerously equal measure, while Baghdatis was way more conservative yet converted far more of his first serves into points. He took the set with an ace.

In the second neither player could nose ahead, with Baghdatis so frustrated with his inability to put a backhand down the line at 5-5 that he instructed himself at a bellow: “Make it!” But moments later Brown began to leak a whole succession of individual break points, and – just as Baghdatis had instructed himself – the Cypriot did indeed put away a backhand pass down the line for his sixth break point, which he followed up with an excellent return. Next game Baghdatis won a thrilling point at the net for 30-15, which left Brown looking thoroughly unhappy. Moments later the set was gone.

But in the third the Baghdatis serve faltered. Brown broke him for 3-1. The nearest Baghdatis could get was 0-30 at 2-4 but no further; and when Brown brought up set point, Baghdatis promptly double-faulted to see the set go 6-2.

Oddly, the fourth set was shaping up as a carbon copy, with Brown again breaking for 3-1. At 5-2 a decider looked inevitable, and it seemed merely consolation that Baghdatis held for 5-3 to make Brown serve it out. But he couldn’t. It wasn’t even close.

The tie-break was nip and tuck until Baghdatis once again scooped that backhand down the line for two match points, and then grasped victory with a softly-softly drop shot. Brown’s congratulations at the net were generous and sporting, and Baghdatis kissed the turf of Court 12 in gratitude. But Brown will look at his 61 winners to the Cypriot’s 47, and wonder how he could have fallen so far short of his stated intention of making the second week.

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