Winning remains top priority

ROTTERDAM (AFP) – Amenable Marcos Baghdatis denied yesterday that he’s too nice for tennis after crashing out 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in the first round of the Rotterdam Open. «Nice is better, but I still have a winning mentality,» said the 2006 Australian Open finalist after losing to resurgent Swede Robin Soderling. «My goal is to win tennis matches; if I entertain the public, that’s even better,» added the popular Cypriot. Baghdatis was appearing in Rotterdam for the first time after two near-misses due to late injury withdrawals over the past two editions. But his first visit to the Ahoy Stadium ended as a flying one after losing to Soderling in one hour, 43 minutes. «The court was slow and the balls were heavy,» said last weekend’s Marseille semifinalist Baghdatis. «That’s a tough combination. I didn’t feel good on the court and I started slowly. You cannot give away a set to a guy who serves so well. I knew in the second and third sets I couldn’t make mistakes, I couldn’t give him chances.» Baghdatis still out-aced Soderling 13 to 10. Soderling, who finished in the ATP top 50 last season despite missing the last three months with a left-wrist injury, broke in the final game to move through to face either Fernando Verdasco or Jarkko Nieminen. The Swede ranked 44th and playing in only his second tournament of 2008, improved his record in the series to 3-1 over the Cypriot. Baghdatis said he is hoping to return to the Top 10 from his current ranking of 21st. «Two years ago I got to the Top 10, but I couldn’t stay there. I was young and immature then, but I’m working on more consistency.» A pair of Spaniards were eliminated by Frenchmen. Nicolas Mahut sprang a first-round surprise on Tommy Robredo 7-5, 6-4 while Gilles Simon stopped Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 6-4. Mahut, ranked 40th, followed up on his Marseille quarterfinal from last week, where he lost to eventual champion Andy Murray. That victory kick-started a season where he had won just one match coming in. The Frenchman fired eight aces in the 93-minute win, with Robredo continuing to sink into oblivion in 2008 after finishing 2007 among the elite. The Spaniard who once stood inside the Top 10 – he’s now on 17th – can still claim only one victory this season on the ATP.