A little aplomb would go a long way for Baghdatis

Since reaching a career-high ranking of No. 8 in '06, Marcos Baghdatis has delivered inconsistent results. AP Photo/Isaac Brekken

Marcos Baghdatis was in Las Vegas last week, which was only fitting. After all, he wouldn't look out of place captivating an audience, perhaps as a comedian, at some gargantuan hotel on the strip.

The flamboyant Cypriot, of course, was instead taking part in the Tennis Channel Open, home to a modest field while the big boys were in Dubai. Like a few others in the draw -- Marat Safin, Lleyton Hewitt, Guillermo Canas and Robby Ginepri -- Baghdatis was trying to jump start his career.

Even though the 22-year-old fan favorite has already played in some of the tour's most memorable matches in recent seasons, he's lacked consistency since beginning a run of unlikely Australian Open finalists and is onto his third coach in less than a year. The talent is there, though Baghdatis admits it's between the ears where he's partly struggled.

"I think I play pretty good tennis, and it's not a matter of tennis, it's a matter of the head and confidence,'' said Baghdatis, ranked a seemingly disproportionate 18th. "I think that if I work on that, like I'm doing now, getting more consistent, I'll start missing a bit less and win more. I'm getting there. I think it's just a matter of time before I play better and better and get to the top 10.''

His confidence took a bit of a dip when Yiannos Hadjigeorgiou quit as his coach, citing personal reasons, early in February. Hadjigeorgiou, who mentored Baghdatis and forged a bond with him as a youngster, remains Cyprus' Davis Cup captain, so the two, still on good terms, will continue to bump into each other. He only replaced Guillaume Peyre, the man by Baghdatis' side during his Melbourne adventure in 2006, last spring.

Baghdatis showed up in Nevada with Mehdi Daouki, a product of Patrick Mouratoglou's academy just outside Paris, where he continues to train. Mouratoglou described the Moroccan, a coach at the academy for about two years, as energetic, motivated and a hard worker. He was the first guy Baghdatis thought of.

Filling the void quick was important. Mouratoglou acknowledged Baghdatis is one of those players who needs to be content off court to excel on it.

"I'm feeling great, and I feel much better,'' said Baghdatis. "I want to play tennis more now than I wanted to before.''

He widely confessed he found it hard to deal with increased expectations in 2006, and in his next visit to Melbourne, was gone with barely a whimper. Former junior foe Gael Monfils knocked him out in the second round, inflicting a dreaded bagel in the fourth and final set.

"Marcos is unbelievably complex,'' Mouratoglou said. "Every time you expect something, he's doing something different. I think the person that's with him every day for 15 hours is so important, because if this person brings more confidence, more will, more enthusiasm, that's better for Marcos.''

Having a little extra will and confidence might make the difference when it counts.

Since Oz 2006, where he topped Croat Ivan Ljubicic in five sets in the quarterfinals and went the distance in defeating Argentine David Nalbandian a round later, rallying from two sets down, Baghdatis has lost some tight encounters on tennis's biggest stages.

Hampered by cramps and perhaps the raucous New York crowd, he fell to Andre Agassi in five sets in the second round at the U.S. Open two years ago; at Wimbledon last summer, this time in the quarterfinals, Baghdatis was on the wrong end of a five-hour, five-set epic against Novak Djokovic; and in the third round of this season's Australian Open, there was more five-set misery.

Baghdatis went down to Hewitt in five sets and nearly five hours after smiling himself back into the match when it appeared he was out of it in the fourth. (Baghdatis' mind might have been on other things against Hewitt. An old video was unearthed days before, showing him chanting anti-Turkish slogans, which led some to criticism.) His encounter with Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon semis two years ago, another defeat, was arguably the highlight of the fortnight.

Baghdatis' high-risk game -- he hits the ball flat, with not much clearance over the net, and goes for the line -- isn't so much the problem, according to Mouratoglou. He needs to show the intensity all year, as in, not only at the majors.

Heading into Las Vegas, Baghdatis, inside the top 10 for two months in 2006, exited in the first round twice in four tournaments this campaign. Ginepri ousted him in the second round.

"On the other tournaments, maybe the not so important ones for him, he doesn't win because it's not important enough for him, and this hurts him in the end because on those so close and important matches, the confidence that he didn't take in the smaller tournaments -- that can make him lose,'' Mouratoglou said.

Baghdatis claims to be spending more time on the practice court, which can only help. If he makes a few improvements, such as transitioning to the net better and then putting away the volley, he should ascend the rankings with ease, said Barry Cowan, a former British pro and now a commentator for Sky Sports.

The next 12 to 15 months will prove vital, he added.

"The talent he has, the way he strikes a ball, the way he serves, he has that no-fear attitude, there's no reason why he can't get inside the top 10,'' Cowan said. "He certainly is an engaging character, which is why I think it was so good that he did well not only at the Australian Open two years ago but at Wimbledon as well.''

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.