The boy with a lion’s heart


How we cheered when Marcos Baghdatis, took the first set in the Australian Open Final. How we were glued to our seats when he only narrowly lost the second before nerves set in. Then Roger Federer rediscovered his game and won point after point, game after game and, eventually, set after set to take the match. Baghdatis, tired and nursing a cramp was beaten fair and square by the greatest tennis player in the world today. Federer took his seventh singles Grand Slam title, placing him on equal footing with John McEnroe in the record books. Few players have won more. One of them, Rod Laver, presented the trophy to the winner on Sunday.


Marcos Baghdatis looked on and smiled as a tearful Federer took the cup and went on to congratulate his unseeded challenger. Marcos’ dream was over, but his career is just beginning. The British newspapers wrote he is “Destined for greatness.”


What a long, strange trip it’s been for the young boy who left his mother’s side as a teenager, moving to France because nobody in this country could give him the tennis education his talent deserved. The twenty-year-old from little Paramytha, which means “Fairytale”, smashed his way past some of the greatest tennis players in the world to face the undisputed king of the courts.


Greatness didn’t come overnight. His demeanour may not betray it, but Marcos Baghdatis has fought every step of the way. His Lebanese-born father Christos and his mother Andri have sacrificed so much for Marcos and his brothers and sister. How difficult it must be to not see your teenage boy, your little “pallikari”, for months and to wonder how you’ll make ends meet because his education is so expensive.


I remember Marcos’ brother Marinos, the eldest of the brothers from my school. My mother knows the Baghdatis family and told me of the difficulties they have gone through and I have read that Marcos’ parents feel they missed his childhood. His doting mother, like any mother, still worries about him. His father is concerned that Marcos no longer has a private life. Marcos Baghdatis dedicated his Final game to his family, to the people who have supported him and to all Cypriots.


But until last week, the Government provided little help and the local tennis clubs were unable or unwilling to support the precocious young player. Now everyone is crawling out of the woodwork to bask in his reflected glory. Now Marcos’ run to the final is everyone’s run to the final. Now we are all tennis experts.


The news shows spent half an hour every night last week talking about Marcos Bahdatis. Half of that time they were showing soundbites from the man in the street saying “We will lift the Cup!” or “We can win it!” People who have never watched, let alone played tennis in their lives were saying that they would win the Final. And people who should have been there for the Baghdatis family but who never cared before are now proclaiming their own greatness. But it is not their victory.


The politicians are saying that Marcos has done us proud. It is not their victory, nor that of the TV channels who know that Marcos sells. Then there are companies placing advertisements in the papers that bear Marcos’ face and the shrewd businesses printing up batches of Marcos T-shirts and selling them in sports stores without the player’s consent- it is not their victory either. Marcos may have been called “The Pirate” but these people are hijackers.


It is not my victory either. I am just a writer. We achieve nothing by sitting on our sofas watching television. It may be true that very step of the way, every swing of the racket we were supporting him, but we didn’t lift a finger. Only Marcos did, and only he and those who supported him deserve to reap the benefits of those efforts.


Meanwhile, the politicians have huffed and puffed for ages now as to whether or not Baghdatis should eventually do his 26 months of army service. I think Marcos Baghdatis has done more than any soldier ever could, especially at a time of peace. He has certainly done more than any politician I can think of to spread the name and enhance the reputation of a country that all but turned its back on him.


Marcos Baghdatis, the young boy from Limassol, who loves his country and is devoted to his family has done us more than proud. He has honoured us. If only we could work as hard and as honestly to achieve our goals as he has. We may never scale the heights that he has, but even in a small way or even in our hearts, maybe we could all be heroes.  Just like Marcos, the smiling boy with a lion’s heart.

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