January 24, 2006

Military service hangs over Open sensation from Cyprus

By Michele Kambas

NICOSIA (Reuters) - Nothing worries Cypriot Marcos
Baghdatis except the army.

The military draft could wreck the tennis player's career
if army chiefs on the east Mediterranean island decide to call
him up, and his family says the uncertainty is affecting his

Not that you would guess from his performances at the
Australian Open.

Baghdatis is the talk of Cyprus, a country with virtually
no tradition in tennis, after extending his extraordinary run
in Melbourne into the semi-finals by beating seventh seed Ivan
Ljubicic of Croatia on Tuesday.

Unfortunately for the unseeded 20-year-old it is virtually
impossible to dodge the draft in Cyprus, with all males aged
over 18 having to spend 26 months in the armed services.

"We are pleading with the military to give him exemption
from the army... they should at least inform him that he will
not have to do the army until he is 35. But they are not
willing to do that," Baghdatis's Lebanese father Christos was
quoted as saying by the Cyprus Mail.

"He is constantly being given postponements from the
Ministry of Defense regarding his draft. It is in itself a
worry for our son."


Baghdatis, who started playing aged five, was packed off to
a French boarding school to develop his game when he was 14
under an Olympic Solidarity scholarship.

His tough on-court mentality was shaped by this parting
from his family and particularly his mother Androulla, highly
unusual in the close-knit communities of Cyprus.

"He has sacrificed everything -- his parents, his life
here," says Simon Aynedjian, the Cyprus over 35 and over 45

"I've seen him with his mother, and how affectionate and
lovey-dovey they are. He misses it, he has given everything for
the game."

He has a younger sister, Zena, and two older brothers who
also played Davis Cup for their country.

Baghdatis was the world number one junior in 2003 and, at
54 in the rankings before the Australian Open, he is the first
Cypriot to feature in the top 100.

"His performance is quite unprecedented, given the tennis
history that Cyprus has, but for those who have followed his
career this is not much of a surprise," said Sotiris
Charalambous, sports editor of the Cyprus Mail.

The paper was the first to highlight Baghdatis's army
problem and brought the player's talent to the attention of the

"One member of the review board said they had no idea,"
Charalambous said.