Photo: Lilyana VinogradovaPetros Baghdatis (CYP)
Now we know where Marcos Baghdatis gets that happy-go-lucky manner that tennis fans so adore him for – his older brother Petros. The looks, mannerisms, even the hair bunched on top like a sumo wrestler, it’s all the same. And like his younger brother, he also plays tennis for a living – he’s a coach in Cyprus. If there is a difference it’s that Petros is even more playful: “I was always more into fun things – like beach tennis,” he said.
Baghdatis still had a smile on his face after Cyprus’s bid for glory at the ITF Beach Tennis World Team Championship hit the buffers in Moscow on Thursday when they had the misfortune to run into the champions Brazil in the second round.
For two sets, Baghdatis and his partner, Christopher Koutrouzas, gave as good as they got against the world No. 1 Vinicius Font and Thales Santos and if it was regular tennis the “giving it” might have earned them one or two black looks from the opposition. But in beach tennis no-one bears grudges. As the late Kenny Everett would have said, “It’s all done in the best possible taste.”
“It’s definitely not like tennis,” said Baghdatis. “Obviously in tennis you also have the respect of your opponent but it’s also more of a friendly feeling [in beach tennis]. You go out there to win, but it’s a nicer feeling than tennis. This is more fun.
“Even when your opponent hits a smash against you, they do it to win a point and then say sorry to you and apologise and you accept it while smiling at them and thinking ‘it’s okay, I’ll get you next time’. I hit Vini two times today - I didn’t mean to - I just hit a smash and it went on him, but afterwards he was smiling at me.”
When he finished school in Cyprus, Baghdatis went off to the United States to do a tennis scholarship. When he returned to his home country his professional tennis ambitions – such is the way - got side-tracked by a job coaching young children. “I fell in love with the kids – I just wanted to give something back to the sport which I feel very proud about.”
Baghdatis’s only regret is that he didn’t discover beach tennis sooner, if he had he would never have given tennis a second thought. “It’s a different sport, but if I had to choose, if it came to Cyprus like 10 years ago and I was younger I would definitely play beach tennis rather than tennis.”
Apparently, his brother Marcos, who at 29 is six years younger than Petros, has tried the sport a couple of times without being won over by it, but big brother hasn’t completely given up on him yet as a future teammate. “I got him out on the court a couple of times but he didn’t get really into it because I think he didn’t want to injure himself, so he was taking it slow,” said Baghdatis. “I don’t know, in a couple of years when or if he stops playing tennis whether he would like to try it. I know he likes football more.
“Someone like my brother would definitely pick it up very easily. You’re still an athlete. Most of these guys even if they didn’t play tennis before, they were athletes. When you’re an athlete you can pick up other sports very easily. This is a sport where if you have good feeling with the hands and eye coordination – I mean, legs is always a part of sports – you can do it. You don’t have to have been a good tennis player.
“Even basketball players, I think, could do it, even volleyball players too. And people who have played beach volleyball would also be very good because they’re very familiar with the sand, how to move on it. As a tennis player, that’s the thing you have to adjust to the most.
“Hopefully, they can introduce it at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil and in 2020 put it into the Games. It’s a shame [it isn’t yet an Olympic sport] because it’s a very fun sport for spectators to watch. Points are very fast.”
Marcus came and watched his brother play once a couple of years ago when beach tennis put on a demonstration at the BMW tournament in Munich. “That was the only time he has watched me, but that’s because he was there!” said Petros.
Otherwise their professional paths have rarely crossed. Petros does recall one occasion when they did, at a futures tournament in Cyprus. “I was in the qualies and, of course, he was in the main draw,” said Petros. “He said to me, ‘If you pass and I play first round with you I’m not going to play, I don’t want to beat you’. I replied, ‘I hope I don’t pass then’. I played someone else and lost and he went on to win the tournament. We played doubles together so that was fun.”
If he played his brother at beach tennis tomorrow, though, he would probably beat him very easily. No change there then, he might say. Just for the record, Petros said that he never once lost to his brother at tennis. “When I realised he could beat me I never played him again,” said Petros. Smart man as well as a fun-loving one.