SPORTS

Tennis is the word in Cyprus

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cyprus was yesterday looking forward to Marcos Baghdatis once again upsetting all the odds in a major tournament to become the country’s first-ever Wimbledon champion. «Unstoppable,» roared Simerini newspaper, commenting on the Cypriot’s impressive defeat of 2002 champion Leyton Hewitt. «Baghdatis lights up Wimbledon,» beamed Alithia daily. Despite an apparent lack of interest in the early rounds of Wimbledon, Cyprus is now fully aware the 18th seed can make sporting history by securing a first-ever grand slam title. Baghdatis proved his Australian Open final run was no fluke after outplaying Hewitt in a 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 quarterfinal triumph on Wednesday. Most Cypriots did not expect anything spectacular from their sporting hero at Wimbledon as the tennis ace had never won on grass before. The Paris-based former junior world number one is playing in only his second Wimbledon. He meets the second seed Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. Mass-selling Phileleftheros newspaper said Baghdatis «the miracle worker» was «reliving the triumph» that took the then unknown to the Australian Open in January, where he was humbled by world number one Roger Federer in the final. The player himself confessed the disappointment of that defeat has spurred him to achieve greater things. The 21-year-old Cypriot had slipped under the radar while most of the soccer-mad island was engrossed in the World Cup. Unfortunately, the start of Wimbledon clashed with the knockout stages in Germany, plus the tennis tournament is only being broadcast on the Mediterranean island on pay-TV. «He played excellent against Hewitt… It was totally unexpected,» female fan Zena Georgiou told AFP. «I think he will reach the final on Sunday. Thankfully we have three TVs in our house so if it clashes with the World Cup my husband can watch the football in another room,» she added. Incredibly, for an island of less than a million people who don’t really play much tennis or understand the rules that well, Cyprus has produced a talent that promises to be one of the finest to pick up a racket. Baghdatis’s meteoric rise up the tennis rankings has had a positive knock-on effect in Cyprus with more kids picking up a tennis racket rather than kicking a football, and the grassroots level of the game has enjoyed more funding.