In the world of professional tennis it’s not very often that a player forced out of reaching his true potential through injuries is given the chance to pick up where he left off, but that’s exactly what’s happening to Brian Baker right now thanks to his wildcard entry in this weekend’s Roland Garros French Open tournament.
The former teen phenomenon has had what can only be described as a miraculous recovery from his total of five surgeries in the 6 years that he was out of the game, but his ascendancy back to the top is even more miraculous. Starting from scratch again playing local tournaments and slowly building his way up, Baker won an important tournament in Savannah last month earning himself another Grand Slam shot in the process.
That wildcard from the organisers of the French Open seems to have spurred Baker, who is currently ranked number 216 in the official ATP rankings, on to achieve more. He had a successful run at the Open de Nice, winning three qualifying matches and on Wednesday defeating world Number 13 – Gael Monflis – 6-3, 7-6 (9) in the process. An all-time career high that he hasn’t equalled since he won junior tournaments against Berdych and Djokovic. Yes, that’s right, Baker as a teen genuinely was a force to be reckoned with, easily defeating the current world’s best tennis player before going on to play three US Opens.
This was also his first match against a top 50 player since triumphing over Gaston Gaudio at the US Open 7 years ago. Commenting to the Wall Street Journal that despite feeling confident “being out for so long, I know how quickly it can be taken away from you. I’m going to do everything in my power that this time, it’s for a long time.” there seems to be a powerful force driving Baker to this decade achieve what he was meant to as a promising junior.
It’s a sentiment that Jim Madrigal, the head tennis coach at Belmont University where Baker enrolled at the age of 23 following his surgeries, also shares –“He’ll upset some people in the next five years….Everybody knows who he is.”
Recovering from his extensive surgeries – amongst them two hip operations and Tommy John surgery on his elbow – was certainly a matter of mental endurance as well as physical strength, but Baker’s approach of going back to school and getting involved in grass roots tennis really does seem to have paid off for him. With the eyes of the tennis world fixed on Paris this weekend, there’s a quiet confidence in the air that seems to say we’ll finally get to see the best of what Brian Baker has to offer.