Surprise defeat for Baghdatis ahead of the Australian Open

Cypriot tennis star Marcos Baghdatis, the world’s No 16 in the ATP rankings, crashed out of the Chennai Open in India yesterday following a first-round defeat in straight sets to low-ranked Dutchman Robin Haase. Baghdatis, the tournament’s second seed and an Australian Open finalist in 2006, was beaten by Haase, ranked 114 in the world, 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 24 minutes on the center court of the Nungambakkam Tennis Stadium in the southern Indian city. Haase, who had lost in three sets in his only other meeting with Baghdatis, wasted five match points in the 10th game of the second set before wrapping up the match with a forehand cross-court shot. «Baghdatis is a great player but I was plain lucky that he was not at his best today,» said the 20-year-old Haase. «When you play a great player like him, you have to raise your own game and I am happy I was able to pass the test.» Baghdatis, who also lost in the first round in his previous appearance in the tournament in 2005, said he was not disheartened by the shock defeat, less than a fortnight away from the beginning of Grand Slam play at the Australian Open in Melbourne. «It was the first match of the season and I was coming back after two months off the circuit,» he said. «I was unable to play as well as I am capable of but I am certain I will pick up as the days pass and be prepared for the Australian Open.» Baghdatis made no excuses about his surprise loss. «There was no problem with the court, weather or anything like that. He just played better than me and took the chances that came his way,» the 2006 Australian Open finalist added. In another upset yesterday, Kristof Vliegen of Belgium defeated eighth-seeded Frenchman Marc Gicquel – Baghdatis’s doubles partner – 7-6 (7/5), 6-4. A day earlier, Baghdatis and Gicquel, who teamed up for the first time as a doubles pair, scored an impressive victory in the tournament’s opening round of men’s double play over world number two Rafael Nadal and Bartolome Salva-Vidal in straight sets, 6-4. 6-4. «It was tough but we didn’t lose serve all match, so I’m happy with our performance,» said Baghdatis. Elsewhere, in women’s competition, Greece’s leading tennis player Eleni Daniilidou, currently ranked 42nd in the world, showed strong early season form as she easily disposed of British qualifier Elana Baltacha yesterday in the first round of the Auckland Classic women’s tennis tournament. Seventh-seed Daniilidou, a two-time champion in New Zealand, impressed in disposing of her British opponent 6-1, 6-2 as part of her preparations for the Australian Open. Top seed Vera Zvonareva made a confident start to her bid for a first singles title in 18 months as she beat New Zealand wild card Sacha Jones 6-0, 6-1 in the first round of the Auckland Classic. The Russian, who won the most recent of her five WTA Tour titles in July 2006, made light of a tricky wind and was far too good for Jones as she romped into round two. Zvonareva, runner-up in Auckland in each of the past two years, came into the tournament full of confidence after finishing 2007 as the world No 22, her highest year-end ranking since 2004. And the 17-year-old Jones was thoroughly outclassed as Zvonareva made an impressive start to set up a clash with Swede Sofia Arvidsson. «It was a bit windy out there, as usual, but it was a good start to the year for me,» Zvonareva said. «I could see some good things in her game. She has a good future if she keeps training and playing at this level.» Second seed Maria Kirilenko joined her compatriot in round two with a hard-fought 6-2 2-6 6-3 victory over Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. However, there was a surprise defeat for fourth seed Michaella Krajicek of the Netherlands as she went down 7-5 6-7 6-2 to Sara Errani of Italy, the world No 161. French 20-year-old Aravane Rezai and compatriot Camille Pin were among other first-round winners yesterday. (AFP, Kathimerini, Reuters)