If you are a lover of romance – or Cypriots – you might want to look away now.

Because we have some bad news, and a little bit of good news, regarding the triumphant arrival in Sunday’s men’s singles final of the Australian Open by the unheralded Marcos Baghdatis.

The bad news is that in Grand Slam history, the overwhelming evidence is that when an unseeded player makes it to the men’s singles final, you can kiss goodbye to a decent final.

At the Australian Open, precisely one unseeded player has ever managed to win. Big burly Mark Edmondson, waaaay back in 1976, was also the last local hero, which is kind of depressing.

The good news is that when an unseeded player does surprise in a final, it tends to be spectacular and that player tends to be a future great, announcing himself to the world.

Rewind to 1985 when a big red-headed teenager called Boris Becker was unseeded as he won a tight four-set Wimbledon final against Kevin Curren, or drift to the 1997 French Open final when a Brazilian, Gustavo Kuerten, was unseeded and unknown before thrashing two-time Roland Garros winner Sergi Bruguera for the title. History records that neither win was a fluke as Becker and Kuerten enjoyed strong careers.

Michael Chang in 1989 and Gaston Gaudio in 2004 are two other stars who arrived with an unseeded French Open singles win. But clay must play a role in that. Note the lack of such stories at the modern hardcourt Grand Slams – the US Open and Australian Open.

In fact, Andre Agassi, in his veteran phase (as opposed to his punk-kid phase), is the only unseeded player of the Open era to have won at Flushing Meadow. (Mark Philippoussis was unseeded when he lost to Pat Rafter in 1998).

Mal Anderson (1957) and Fred Stolle (1966) were unseeded champions, and unseeded Jan Kodes made the final in 1971, but that was on grass.

It’s even worse for unseeded finalists at Wimbledon where, since the concept of “seeded players” was introduced in 1927, 13 unseeded men have made the final. Eleven of those lost meekly, in straight sets.

Becker’s first title in 1985 stands as a remarkable exception while the only other unseeded man ever to win was also a wild card. Goran Ivanisevic, in the twilight of his career, memorably staggered home against 3rd seed Pat Rafter in 2001.

So what does all this mean? Only that the Bag Man is up against it – but that was also the case against Andy Roddick, not to mention when he was two sets down against David Nalbandian yesterday.

If Baghdatis can pull off one more miracle in the final, we might yet be witnessing something special. And it might not be a one-night stand.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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