Cypriot sensation reaches firstGrand Slam final in Melbourne

MELBOURNE (AFP, Reuters) – Young Cypriot Marcos Pagdatis capped an extraordinary Australian Open by reaching his first Grand Slam final with a stirring five-set fightback victory over Argentina’s David Nalbandian yesterday. The 54th-rated Pagdatis added fourth-seeded Nalbandian to his list of three top 10 victims at the year’s first slam with a 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win in three hours and 27 minutes to reach Sunday’s final. Pagdatis, who has yet to lose in six career five-set matches, will now face either world No. 1 Roger Federer or German 21st seed Nicolas Kiefer in the final. The 20-year-old, a junior champion in Melbourne three years ago, became only the fourth unseeded player in 25 years to play in the Australian Open final. «It’s amazing; I have to wake up, I think; it’s just unbelievable,» he said after his euphoric victory. «In the first two sets, I was really stressed out. I didn’t know what to do. He was playing really good. He was playing really aggressive. Then I just had no choice and I just had to go on the court and play my game. Now I feel a bit tired but I worked hard and I think that I will be ready for Sunday.» Just one match away from winning a Grand Slam tournament, Pagdatis doesn’t want any distractions. «I just don’t answer the phone. I try to keep it simple,» he said. Pagdatis said he was nervous as he served out in the final set under incredible pressure and even had to contend with the disruption of a rain break just three points from victory. He said he used the break to listen to advice from his coach Guillaume Payre. «I went into the changing room and I saw my coach and I told him ‘What do I do?’» Pagdatis said. «He just told me, ‘I’m not scared for you, I’m scared for him [Nalbandian].’ It pumped me up. What my coach told me, it was a sign, it was amazing,» the Cypriot added. His composure was fully tested again when he was overruled by chair umpire Andreas Egli on match point, forcing him to win on his second match point with an ace. Pagdatis, cheered on by a large group of chanting Greek expats, underlined his rich promise with his second win over Nalbandian after beating him in the semifinals at Basle last year. His victory yesterday over Nalbandian improved his record against top 10 players to 5-3, with all three losses coming against Federer. The Cypriot has been a breath of fresh air in the men’s tournament with his victories over seeds Radek Stepanek (17), Andy Roddick (2) and Ivan Ljubicic (7) and his current 54 ranking will jump inside the top 30 after the tournament. His infectious grin and passion on court has won fans throughout Australia and made him a hero in Cyprus, which is calling him its greatest sportsman ever. «I think everybody is going crazy back home. I had heard that a lot of people had stopped working and watched my last match [against Ljubicic] and I say thank you very much to everybody in Cyprus,» he said. «I love my country, I love being a Greek Cypriot.» Nalbandian, who looked in command in the opening sets, appeared to lose power on his service after treating abdominal muscles with an ice cap during changeovers in the second set. Pagdatis, who turned on his left ankle at 2-5 in the second set, found new zest and fought his way back into the match. Both players exchanged service breaks but an umpire’s overrule to bring up break point unsettled Pagdatis and he was broken with a backhand error. Nalbandian quickly served out for the opening set and took control from the back court to gain two service breaks to lead 5-1. Pagdatis stepped it up and grabbed two service breaks to level at 5-5 before Nalbandian broke for a third time and served for a two sets to love lead. But the Cypriot would not give up and fought back to take the third set. He then broke Nalbandian’s serve in the third game of the fourth set with a screaming forehand cross-court and served out to level the match as the arena erupted. Both players exchanged two service breaks each in the fifth set, but Nalbandian had a horrible service game in the ninth, making forehand and backhand errors to drop serve and allow Pagdatis to serve out for the match.

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