Commentary

Baghdatis looking to get back on track

Marcos Baghdatis looks to end a precipitous fall in the rankings when he takes on hard-hitting Robin Soderling on Wednesday at the Australian Open.

Updated: January 20, 2009, 10:36 AM ET
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Here's a look at some notable matches on Day 3 of the Australian Open:

Marcos Baghdatis vs. Robin Soderling (16): Baghdatis gets a truckload of support in Australia. Back in 2006, when he instigated a wave of unlikely finalists in Melbourne, images of the Cypriot orchestrating his followers in the crowd were in abundance. Don't forget, though, that the Swedes are always substantially backed in Australia, too. The combination should make for a great atmosphere.

Clearly weighed down by expectations in the years that followed his breakthrough, Baghdatis hasn't gotten past the third round here since. In 2007, he exited with barely a whimper, losing to Gael Monfils in the second round. Troubled by a slew of injuries last year -- his commitment has also been questioned -- he's precariously close to tumbling outside the top 100, about the cutoff point for direct entrance into Grand Slams.

In an effort to turn things around in the offseason, he changed coaches again, swapping the prolific Peter Lundgren -- a Swede, incidentally -- for Frenchman Olivier Soules. More noteworthy, Baghdatis cut ties with longtime mentor Patrick Mouratoglou and his Paris-based academy.

"I think I need some matches," Baghdatis said Monday after his straight-sets win over France's Julien Benneteau, before adding: "I'm confident. I'll take it day by day and work hard."

Soderling, an intimidating sort due to his size, possesses a massive serve and forehand, enough to make him a danger to the elite. Recall that he stretched Rafael Nadal to five sets in an ill-tempered affair at Wimbledon in 2007. In the past eight months, Soderling's ranking rose from outside the top 50 to inside the top 20.

On the downside, Soderling, not the most mobile, can't seem to win the big one. In 20 tries he has yet to surpass the third round in a major.

Prediction: Soderling in four.

Jelena Dokic vs. Anna Chakvetadze (17): Dokic's teary-eyed account of her tumultuous life after a first-round win over Tamira Paszek led the (Melbourne) Herald Sun to brandish the headline "My life is hell." Oh, and the former world No. 4 was featured on the front page of that paper Tuesday. Dokic is estranged from her controversial father, Damir, badmouthed Tennis Australia in the past -- the parties recently kissed and made up -- and fell out of the top 600 last year. She now sits at No. 187. Chakvetadze's got ample baggage, too. The Russian routinely erupts, and disappointed in 2008, sinking to 18th from sixth in the wake of an armed robbery at her Moscow home. Chakvetadze's court smarts can bamboozle when on form.

Prediction: Chakvetadze in three.

Marin Cilic (19) vs. Janko Tipsarevic: This one's an all-Balkan tilt between a rising star, Cilic, and a philosophizing underperformer. Cilic's year-end ranking improved from 71st to 22nd, and the power baseliner picked up where he left off to start 2009, claiming a title in Chennai, India. Along the way, the tall Croat downed Tipsarevic in the quarterfinals, overcoming a second-set lapse to prevail 6-4, 0-6, 6-4. Tipsarevic only converted 3 of 12 break points. In typical Tipsarevic fashion, the Serb needed five sets to fend off Spanish journeyman Oscar Hernandez in the first round Monday. As Roger Federer can attest, Tipsarevic raises his game against more difficult foes.

The matchup could have some outside sparks, too. Two years ago, political strife incited a brawl between Serbian and Croatian fans, who were subsequently ejected from Melbourne Park.

Prediction: Cilic in five.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.