When the final backhand by Roger Federer flew long beyond the baseline, Marcos Baghdatis knelt down and kissed the spot where the ball rebounded. His 57 75 76 success, in 2 hours and 22 minutes, is the sweeter victory of his career, and the first over world No 1.
The 24 years old Cypriot reached his top height when he arrived to the final of the Australian Open final five years ago, against the Swiss: he won the first set (he got only another one in the next five attempts), but found himself with no more energies in the last two sets.
He agreed with Federer that the IW second round was not at the same level of that final showdown. But the enthralling victory closed a circle and reinforce the Cypriot's ambition to come back into the top-10, and possibly win a Slam.
The Swiss, not playing for six weeks, and coming out from a bronchitis he suffered in mid-February that forced him withdraw from the Dubai Open where he usually excels, struggled to find rhythm in his debut match against Victor Hanescu, who won the first set in five matches against Federer. The Swiss was quite good in defensive skills facing Baghdatis, with only a little bit under-effective backhands and returns.
"Maybe I was too passive at critical moments," Federer said. "I would have liked to have played more competitive matches here but I guess I'll have to play plenty of practice sets between now and Miami". The taste of the defeat is bitter, but there's no need to panic.
Surely there's something to reflect about, mainly the unusual lack of killer instinct in the key moments. A relaxation we already saw against Tsonga in Montreal, where he lost in three sets despite leading 5-1 in the final set.
Federer, after facing the first break points, at 3-3 15-40, definitely broke to 5-7 thanks to a pair of errors from the baseline and an easy forehand volley netted at set point, after 45 minutes.
The difference in the match, Baghdatis thought, was his patience. ""You have to choose the points that you have to be aggressive. You have to be smart. You have to change the game".
In the second Fed-Ex arrived in cruise control to 5-4, on Baghdatis' serve, but wasted a pair of match points, a testimony to the Cypriot's brave mood when he found himself back to the wall. Baghdatis held with a streak of four consecutive point, Roger got more and more nervous and lost his serve for the first time in the match to 5-6. Baghdatis clinched the set at 7-5: the key was the gap in the percentage of points won following the second serve, 81% to 42% for Baghdatis.
A bothered Federer fought to right the vehicle, but remained entrapped in a vicious series of mis-hits, 46 unforced errors, and lost chances. Baghdatis went on trading big blows, on serve and return, and had the merit not to buckle in a moment of crisis, when he underwent a treatment to his knee during the ninth game of the third set.
Predictably, in a match with just two breaks in 24 games, they went on with serve in the early games of the final set, but an easy error and a double fault forced Baghdatis on the ropes again, down 1-2 0-40 on his serve. He saved the first thanks to the netcord stopping a rocking forehand by the Swiss. On the second the HawkEye corrected the call on a backhand by the Cypriot, judged long, and on the repeated point Federer uncentred a backhand. In the very next point, however, he emerged from a breathless rally with a golden break.
Baghdatis, down 1-4, refused to give up. He held to love to 2-4, and in the next game, at 30all, he won the blockbuster point of the night after a 25-shot rally closed with an unreachable forehand. Federer netted a forehand, Baghdatis then held to 4-4.
It's the best moment of a well-played match, that found his natural conclusion in a thrilling tiebreak, although Federer wasted his third match point, at 6-5 30-40 on Baghdatis' serve, with a netted backhand.
"I should never have been in the tie-break," Federer bitterly admitted in the post match press conference.
The tie followed the succession of serve till 4-4: the clincher was a forehand crosscourt drive by Baghdatis off a full force forehand by the Swiss. Federer could only parry it into the net.
Baghdatis' face after the 46th Federer's unforced error that gifted him the match was the effigy of happiness. "It's the best win of my career," Baghdatis said. "I am so very happy. A lot of emotions run through your head and it's such a relief to win a match like that after being down so far."