Marcos Baghdatis has the ability to extract the best from a tennis crowd and the worst from himself, sometimes in the same moment. The reckless abandon, the fluidity of shot-making and the irrepressible energy of the 27-year-old Cypriot draw applause, cheers and even affection from the gallery.
But there is a darkness that can envelop the player suddenly. It cannot be kept at bay. In January, Baghdatis sat at the side of the court in Melbourne and smashed four rackets. It is the type of incident that defines a player but his meltdown in the Australin Open is only part of the Baghdatis story. Like many outwardly cheery personalities, he has depressive tendencies.
The Cypriot boy who once took on and defeated the world can now sometimes be diminished by it. Baghdatis was the junior world champion, a top-10 player, a finalist in the Australian Open at 20, a player who was expected to be a major winner. At 27, he is ranked 42nd in the world and has won only four titles, the last in Sydney in 2010. This is a considerable achievement but it is not the realisation of the dreams of someone who was the best junior player in the world in 2003.
Baghdatis, though, has travelled a difficult, if occasionally scenic, route to his meeting with Andy Murray today. He is the son of a Lebanese immigrant and a Cypriot woman. His father, Christos, owned a clothing store and was the impetus behind the son's career.
"It's thanks to my father that I'm a tennis player because my mother, Andoula, didn't want that," Baghdatis once said. "I began playing tennis at age five with my father and brothers. When I was 11 years old, I felt that tennis was much more than just a passion for me."
He trained at the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in Paris on a scholarship when he was 13. His parents incurred debts supporting him. "I am not complaining," said Christos. "I want the best for my boy." There has been a dividend in that Baghdatis has made $5m in prize money.
However, he craves the next step. There is an opportunity today.
Miles Maclagan, his coach, once worked for Murray and knows both the Scot's game and the stresses he faces. "Everyone is focused upon him but he handles it well. I know from having been there's this massive expectation on him to win," said Maclagan. "The questions keep coming about when he is going to win a slam and with Nadal out there will be a lot of the public who think he is just going to cruise to the final, which of course is just not the case, regardless of what happens tomorrow."
He added: "Marcos is very quick and has plenty of power. He plays better on a big stage."
Baghdatis does not lack belief. "For sure, I can beat him," he said of Murray. "On a good day, I can beat anybody."
He recalled that bad day at the Australian Open. "It can happen to anybody. That is where you have to try and control your emotions. What I did in Australia was not nice. The fans liked it – it was fun for the crowd but that is not me. I would promise I would never do it again," he said.
He prefers to reflect on the experience of last year's defeat to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. "Even though I lost it was one of the best feelings I had on a tennis court. People were shouting my name – that is an amazing feeling. I am blessed to have this charisma and this fun on court and give it to the people," he said. "People identify with my character. That is me, that is the way I grew up. that is it. There is nothing fake in that, it is all natural. Every time I come back, I enjoy it. The energy is perfect whenever I come here."
The curtain is ready to come up on another Baghdatis drama, part comedy, part tragedy, but all entertainment.