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Marcos Baghdatis beat Marat Safin in five sets in the second round of the Australian Open, but Baghdatis’ career might look a lot like Safin’s by the time it’s over.

To be a championship tennis player you need the appropriate balance between intensity and amnesia. You need enough fire in your belly to slog through five set matches in ungodly heat for two weeks straight and enough amnesia to forget a stretch of bad tennis.

While I was watching Marcos Baghdatis beat Marat Safin by the score of 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2, I spent a little time placing both players on the intensity/amnesia spectrum. The exercise brought up a number of interesting comparisons between these two players.

First of all, we know Safin does not have amnesia. He not only doesn’t forget his last bad shot but he’s very likely to respond to a stretch of bad tennis by getting into an argument with the chair umpire, or any other willing participant.

You could never, however, accuse Safin of lacking intensity or lacking effort. Safin had game point at 4-2 in the third set when Baghdatis hit a beautiful running forehand down the line. Safin was at the net and he lunged towards the sideline and hit what could only be called a stretch stab volley. I mean, he launched all six foot four inches of his body horizontal. The volley was perfect.

Baghdatis, on the other hand, is short on intensity. He’s not as aggressive as he needs to be. He’s my top candidate to take Safin’s place as the player most likely to fail to fulfill his potential. Here’s a guy who made it all the way to the final at the 2006 Australian Open and got up to the number eight ranking and he’s been rattling around with a 15-20 ranking ever since.

Whereas Safin is a tall powerful tennis player who’ll attack the net – he’s the most powerful tennis player I’ve ever seen, Baghdatis has a lot of baby fat on that body and he ventures to the net only when the situation requires it. He could impose his game on opponents by moving forward much more but he seems to float above the game instead of get down and dirty.

Baghdatis started the match off doing what he does well: aggressive counterpunching. He was on fire for the first two sets and got out to a two set lead. Safin fought back to win the next two sets as he went through is own patch of exceptional tennis.

When the fifth set came around, Safin went on a walkabout. As he put it,

..unfortunately my concentration and my — everything went a little bit downhill, and he was just preparing himself for the fifth set. So it’s a little bit unlucky.

Consistency is neither player’s hallmark but I have hope for Baghdatis. He’s only 22 years old and he’s playing more aggressively than he used to. He plays very well indoors and on grass courts – he has a semifinal and quarterfinal at Wimbledon already. I could see him winning a Wimbledon some day, maybe even two.

Two slams. That exactly the number of slams owned by one Marat Safin.

Grinders/Retrievers

Safin hit the shot of the tournament but Roger Federer and Fabrice Santoro played the point of the tournament and it tells you why grinders and retrievers are such a pain in the butt. Those are the players with ugly games that get the ball back no matter what you do.

Here is a point from that match that demonstrates what I mean.

Santoro blocked a wide serve into the court then ran deep to the ad corner to retrieve Federer’s response. Santoro’s response was short so Federer came in and hit an approach to deuce corner. Santoro got to it and hit a lob to the middle of the court which Federer hit softly to the ad corner. Another short response by Santoro was followed by yet another Federer approach. This time Santoro’s lob hit the sky and landed just inside the sideline. Federer telegraphed his overhead and off went Santoro to retrieve it. By the time he got there he was at least ten feet beyond the sideline, but get to it he did and his lob pushed Federer back to the baseline where he….yup, shanked the ball and lost the point.

Federer beat Santoro easily, 6-1, 6-2, 6-0, but this point shows you why most people want to strangle player like Santoro. Have any of you readers had a similar experience? I know I have and I was none too successful at dealing with it either.

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