Fabulous Baker boy on a roll
Tennis:Brian Baker’s fabulous story continues apace as he beat France’s Benoit Paire 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 to move into the fourth round at Wimbledon.
The 27-year-old American, who came through three rounds of qualifying just to make the main draw, once again produced a polished grass court performance in difficult conditions to beat an opponent ranked 55th in the world.
A strong wind swirled around Court Three but mentally and physically Baker was more attuned to the demands of the elements. Faire cut at times a petulant figure, railing against pretty much everything as he bemoaned his fate.
The American suffered an enforced six-year hiatus from the professional game, enduring five surgeries, three to his hips, and also operations on an elbow and a hernia. He had been ranked number two in the world as a junior and aged 20 beat the number nine seed Gaston Gaudio at the 2005 US Open so there was no questioning his talent.
However to go from playing in the Middle Tennessee tennis league with his father, Steve last year and coaching the local Belmont University team while studying for a business degree, to the fourth round of Wimbledon is a tale Hans Christian Andersen might have shied away from as too fanciful.
Last year he decided to give professional tennis one final hurrah; he started with trying to qualify for a $10,000 Futures event in Pittsburg. “At first cut I was not in quallies [qualifiers], and so I had to actually get a wild card from the USTA to even play the quallies. I got the call pretty late.
“I don’t know if someone pulled out or not, but I got a call I think on Thursday evening. I was actually on the golf course. I left the next morning and drove up there because it was tough to get a flight. I signed up for quallies and started my next round the next day. I was able to win three quallie matches and then the five main draw matches without losing a set.”
He moved to the Challenger circuit with some success. He reached the final of his first ATP tour event in Nice, and the following week made the second round of the French Open at Rolland Garros, courtesy of a wild card.
Having not played on grass for seven years he didn’t enjoy his first experience at qualifiers for Queen’s club losing his first match but demonstrated his aptitude to learn quickly by going to Roehampton and negotiating his way through three qualifying matches to make the main draw at Wimbledon.
Today, with the exception of the second set when he dropped his serve twice, he was largely comfortable against the volatile Frenchman. “It is difficult to play a guy like that, but I think it was more difficult just with the conditions today. It was really blustery out there. I never felt like the wind was even in the same direction every game, so I think we were both struggling a little bit.”
The breadth of his journey in playing terms during the last year has been bamboozling. “It’s been unreal.
When I’m on the court I know I definitely have nerves. In closing out the match you definitely know what’s on the table, what you can accomplish.
“I mean, I missed a few shots at the end that I probably wouldn’t miss if it was the quarters of a Challenger and not trying to get to the round of 16 at Wimbledon. It is crazy what’s going on. But I’m still trying to stay focused on the task at hand and not get too wrapped. I’m trying to go in there hungry for every match and try to win the next one instead of [thinking], ‘I’m in the round of 16 of Wimbledon; this is awesome.’”
He’ll face number 27 seed Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber who dismissed Rafael Nadal’s conqueror Lukas Rosol in straight sets 6-2, 6-3, 7-6. The latter couldn’t get anywhere near the level that he played against Nadal. Baker said that it would be a childhood dream to play on Centre court; it’s so close now, he can almost touch it.
Men’s Singles Round 3:(27) Philipp Kohlschreiber (Ger) bt Lukas Rosol (Cze) 6-2 6-3 7-6 (8-6), (9) Juan Martin Del Potro (Arg) bt (19) Kei Nishikori (Jpn) 6-3 7-6 (7-3) 6-1, Brian Baker (USA) bt Benoit Paire (Fra) 6-4 4-6 6-1 6-3, (10) Mardy Fish (USA) bt David Goffin (Bel) 6-3 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (8-6), (5) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Fra) bt Lukas Lacko (Svk) 6-4 6-3 6-3, (7) David Ferrer (Spa) bt (30) Andy Roddick (USA) 2-6 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 6-3, (16) Marin Cilic (Cro) bt Sam Querrey (USA) 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 6-7 (2-7) 6-7 (3-7) 17-15.