Baghdatis fan favorite against Federer

1/27/2006 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Marcos Baghdatis has put the energy and passion in this year's Australian Open.

He came in as a pretender and absolutely has earned his way into the final against Roger Federer by beating three straight top-10 players. He plays with a lot of zeal, and it's fun to see the crowd get juiced up behind him.

There's a parallel between what Baghdatis is doing and the run Gustavo Kuerten made at the 1997 French Open.

Kuerten was 20 years old (as is Baghdatis), ranked 66th in the world and had never won a tournament. He came in, stormed Paris and won the French with the same kind of flair and flash in his game that Baghdatis has and went on to be a great player.

The only problem is, the Cypriot has to play Federer and he has lost to him all three times they've met. Federer knows his game.

Hopefully, Baghdatis still has something left because I want to see him come out and empty the barrel. It would be awesome to see him, somehow, rise to the occasion and beat his fourth consecutive top-10 player.

That would be one of the best tournament runs I've ever seen.

To beat Federer, Baghdatis is going to have to serve well, maybe the match of his life. He's going to have serve at a high percentage and serve big. He'll need to be aggressive on his backhand, as well.

One advantage Baghdatis will have is the crowd. He's the fan favorite. By the fifth set against David Nalbandian, Rod Laver Arena felt like a Davis Cup atmosphere.

Win or lose, Baghdatis has shown how global the game of tennis is, and he's heading up the ranks really quickly.

Brad Gilbert, former top-5 player and former coach of Andre Agassi, is providing ESPN.com with analysis throughout the Australian Open. For more, log onto bradgilberttennis.com