Family's sacrifice for Baghdatis' success By Simon Hart n Limassol Six years after he waved a tearful goodbye to his 14-year-old son with the dream that the boy would one day be good enough to reach a Grand Slam tennis final, you would expect Christos Baghdatis to be revelling in the euphoria that is sweeping Cyprus. But beneath the smiles there is also sadness. Yes, of course he is overjoyed that, at the age of 20, his beloved Marcos should be stepping out at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena for an Australian Open final against Roger Federer. What father could not be proud of that? And yet, just when he should be celebrating his good fortune, the memories of his family's sacrifices come flooding back. Unable to find the coaching support in Cyprus to nurture Marcos's precocious talent, Christos took the agonising decision to send his son away to Paris in 1999 to live with a French family and train at the Bob Brett Tennis Academy. In tennis terms, the move was justified by Marcos's remarkable achievement in defying his 500-1 odds at the start of the tournament to reach today's final, but there was a big emotional price. "For me and for my wife, our family is like a chain and we feel that one ring of this chain is missing, and that ring is Marcos," he says. "Of course I love him, I adore him, but I feel there's something missing in my life. I didn't enjoy his childhood very much. I wasn't able to enjoy him when he was 14 or 16. We gave him up for another family because there was something else he had to do later on in his life." Christos is still haunted by the memory of how, for the first three months that Marcos was away, the boy would ring his parents in tears every night begging to come home. Those calls brought Christos into conflict with his wife, Androulla, who urged him to reconsider his decision, and even Marcos's coach advised that it might be better to abandon the whole exercise because the boy was unable to cope. But Christos stood firm, and slowly his son settled down to his new life. "I always used to encourage him," recalls Christos. "I used to tell him to hang on two or three more days just to see what happens, but it was hard. My wife and I, we used to fight all the time. It was very hard for her to think that her son was suffering. If you ask me if I would do it again, I would tell you no. It was too much of a sacrifice for us, and it was too hard for him. Imagine, you are 14 years old and you are having to train seven hours a day away from home. The only days off were Saturday and Sunday, and then he was so tired that all he could do was sleep. That is no life." Now, as Christos watches his son's heroics in Melbourne on television in his Limassol home, the pain of those years of separation grows more intense. He and his son are still close - the pair have a pact that neither will shave until he is out of the tournament, leaving them both with generous, two-week beards - but there is also a distance between them. "I left him somewhere as a child and suddenly what I see before me is a man. He's still my blood, my soul, but there is something missing. It's like reading a novel. You read chapters one to four, then suddenly you miss out chapter five and skip to chapter six. Even if the novel has a happy ending, you're still left wondering what was in chapter five." Christos, a 56-year-old factory worker who arrived in Cyprus from the Lebanon in 1973, is himself a social tennis player in a country that boasts only a dozen clubs and 2,000 registered players. His two oldest sons, Marinos, 29, and Petros, 27, were both good enough to represent Cyprus in the Davis Cup and his seven-year-old adopted daughter, Zena, is also showing promise. But Marcos is the one whose natural skill quickened the pulse. When he was only six, a visiting Bulgarian coach declared there was no greater talent in the world. By 14, Marcos, too, was in the Davis Cup team, but Christos knew he would go no further if he stayed in Cyprus. Both Marinos and Petros were good players but had failed to progress to the next level and, besides, Marcos was talking about abandoning tennis to concentrate on football. When the academy in Paris offered to help, Christos realised what he had to do. The Cyprus Tennis Federation put up some money, but much of the cost had to be shouldered by the family. There is still a lingering resentment about the Cyprus government's lack of financial support for the first truly world-class athlete the country has produced. Having been publicly outspoken about the government's miserliness, Christos is now treading a more diplomatic path. Another highly sensitive issue has emerged - whether Marcos will have to do his compulsory 26 months' military service. Christos is optimistic that something can be worked out. Surely the millions his son is set to generate in publicity for the country must count as some sort of national service. Meanwhile, a new worry is eating away at Christos - the realisation that, whatever the outcome of today's final, his son's life has changed forever. "Marcos won't have a private life any more, and I don't like that. If he becomes a public figure, particularly in a small country like this, he won't have a nice life. I don't mind pressure from the public if they are just curious about him but the media pressure is a different thing. I will refuse it, I will reject it all the time. It's frightening." His protectiveness is understandable. He was the one who set his son on the path to fame. Now he feels responsible for the consequences. "When you take a decision like that, you have a vision only of the immediate benefits," he says. "You could not have imagined all this."