Rising Cypriot reaches the quarterfinals in Melbourne

MELBOURNE – Nothing keeps Marcos Pagdatis from having a good time, not even the daunting task of facing Andy Roddick’s blistering serves. Pagdatis, who already had a rowdy, die-hard following from Melbourne’s large Greek community, has won a lot more fans with his entertaining brand of tennis – particularly during his 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory yesterday over second-seeded Roddick that catapulted him into the Australian Open quarterfinals. He meets seventh-seeded Ivan Ljubicic. Despite the pressure of playing in a packed 15,000-seat Rod Laver Arena, Pagdatis managed to stay focused while feeding off the energy of his backers, their chants sounding even louder than usual with the roof closed due to the sweltering heat outside. «It was great out there,» said Pagdatis, smiling almost constantly during his post-match news conference. «I was just in my own world. I think that was one of my best matches ever.» Roddick certainly agreed. Late in the match, he looked stunned, like a deer caught in the headlights. After one untouchable Pagdatis winner, he shrugged to his fans to say, «What can I do?» The demonstrative Pagdatis, repeatedly pumping his fist after belting winners, even outserved Roddick, 16-15 in aces, and his retrieving skills increasingly frustrated the American. To win a point, one great shot usually wasn’t enough. Pagdatis, a 20-year-old who won a juniors world championship in Melbourne, smacked 63 winners and had only 26 unforced errors. He looked loose throughout the match, dribbling the ball between his legs with his racket every time before he served, something he picked up while watching a guy who is a pretty good role model: Roger Federer. Tennis isn’t a huge sport back home in Cyprus – Pagdatis estimated only about 2,500 of the 640,000 citizens play. His father was a big fan, though, dreaming that one of his children would be a champion some day. Pagdatis dropped out of school at 13 to pursue the dream. His exploits – he rose last year from 170th in the world to No 73 and will rise further after this tournament – are winning new converts quickly. The match was televised live in Cyprus early yesterday morning. The low understanding of the game by his fans in Melbourne meant that he had to educate them on proper etiquette after his first-round opponent complained they were disrupting his service motion. «They think it’s football,» Pagdatis said, laughing. «I told them to calm down and no swearing and stuff. It’s getting better. It’s good for them, good for tennis, good for me.» Most of them sat together yesterday in one upper-deck section, waving Greek and Greek-Cypriot flags and wearing shirts in the Greek national colors of blue and white. They chanted during every break in play. Pagdatis clearly enjoyed the backing. And he loved his match, even when things weren’t going perfectly. «That’s the way I am,» he said. «That’s the way I like to play and like to live.» When he finished off Roddick, Pagdatis turned to his fans and pounded his heart as the crowd rose in a thunderous ovation. Pagdatis threw kisses – and his headband – at the crowd and encouraged his backers by raising his arms repeatedly.

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