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Unseeded Baghdatis upsets Nalbandian

1/26/2006 - Tennis

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Unseeded Marcos Baghdatis extended his remarkable run at the Australian Open, rallying Thursday to beat No. 4 David Nalbandian 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 and reach the
final.

With the crowd screaming support, the 54th-ranked Baghdatis
guaranteed that he will more than double his career winnings. He
will play the winner of Friday's semifinal between top-seeded Roger
Federer and No. 21 Nicolas Kiefer.

That match can be seen on ESPN2 at 3:30 a.m. ET.

Baghdatis, a former world junior champion from Cyprus, was serving for the match at 15-15 when rain began pouring down, forcing organizers to close the roof on Rod Laver Arena.

After workers toweled off the surface, the 20-year-old Baghdatis
missed his first match point on a backhand that was ruled long.

Nalbandian hit a forehand into the net to set up a second
chance, and Baghdatis finished it off with his 15th ace, dropping
to his knees and bowing his head.

"Just amazing," said Baghdatis, who hadn't made it past the
fourth round of his first five Grand Slam events. "I have to wake
up.

"Everything was going in. I was just in my own world I think."

He won 17 of the last 21 points.

The stadium was awash in blue-and-white, looking more like
Greece's national day than Australia's, in support of Baghdatis.
The dozens of chanting fans who showed up for every one of his
matches had plenty of company this time in a city with a large
Greek population.

"Everything is first time here: getting to the quarters was the
first time, getting to the semis was the first time, getting to the
final -- I hope it continues," Baghdatis said.

Baghdatis broke Nalbandian, the reigning Masters Cup champion
and 2002 Wimbledon runner-up, early in the first set before the
Argentine started ripping winners from both sides.

Nalbandian jumped ahead by a set and 5-1 in the second before
Baghdatis started rallying.

The crowd erupted in thunderous cheers as he tied it at 5-5. He
was serving at 15-40 in the next game when holiday fireworks
started thundering nearby. The startled Baghdatis hit a forehand
crosscourt winner before twisting his ankle while losing the next
point and the game.

Baghdatis bounced up quickly. Nalbandian held
serve to take the set, but Baghdatis continued to claw back,
seemingly oblivious to the pressure, soccer kicking a ball eight
times at one point.

He survived an early break to take the third set and broke
Nalbandian for the only time that he needed in the fourth, holding
serve the rest of the way.

Never-say-die Baghdatis, with his infectious smile and quirky
service routine of using his racket to bounce the ball once between
his legs each time, rallied twice from service breaks in the fifth
set. The umpire had to repeatedly ask the crowd for quiet.

Serving at 4-4, Nalbandian double-faulted, then committed three
straight errors to give Baghdatis his eighth service break.

Baghdatis held serve for the match.

Nalbandian, the Masters Cup champion and 2002 Wimbledon
finalist, is the last man -- and one of only four in 2005 -- to beat
Federer.

Baghdatis aims to be the next.

"I believe it, my coach believe it, the guys I work with
believe, my parents believe it," said Baghdatis, ranked 54th. "I
have worked for that ... I'm very proud of myself ... it's been
amazing."

Baghdatis is the fifth-youngest player to reach the final of the Australian Open in the Open Era. He is 6-0 in his career in five-set matches, including his third at this year's Open.

The unseeded Cypriot's run began in the fourth round when he beat No. 2 Andy Roddick and followed that up with a five-set win in the quarterfinals against seventh seed Ivan Ljubicic.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.