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December 11 03:28
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Day 6: The Brian Baker Story

How did Baker get here in 12 months?


June 30, 2012 | 09:44 AM

Brian Baker's improbable run to the 2nd week of The WC might remind one of 17 year old 'amateur' Beau Hossler making the cut and contending for the US Open golf title at The Olympic Club 2 weeks ago. A year ago the 27 year old was unranked and teaching in a low paid job and watching The WC like we are.After his 4 set win today over Benoit Paire, he'll face Kohlschreiber (a 3 set winner of Lukas Rosol on court 12, with no hawk eye and few hundred fans...). After that would be the quarters, where he might see Tsonga (or Fish) across the net... and if he were 17 like Beau Hossler instead of 27, he might dream of contending for the title.

How did Baker get here in 12 months?

In the 2nd week of the The WC last year, Brian tried his luck at a Futures tournament in PA, and won without losing a set. His highest ranked opponent was Robbye Poole, #423, and in the final he beat a talented 17 year old Pennsylvania junior, Bjorn Fratangelo, 7-5, 6-3.

Shortly after the Open in September, he entered another Futures in Canada and won 3 matches before withdrawing from a semi-final with Jess Levine: he still hadn't beaten anyone higher ranked than 423.

Six weeks later at a Challenger in VA he lost 6-2, 6-2 in the 1st round of the qualifier to #303.

In November at a Challenger in TN he broke out, going through 3 qualifying matches (beating Tim Smyczek among others), and going all the way to the final where he lost 6-2, 6-3 to #213 Jesse Levine (the same Jesse who lost yesterday in the 2nd round at The WC). His best win, by ranking, over a #115 ranked S. African Izak Van der Merwe (I saw him lose a qualie at Indian Wells this year).

In January he played 3 Futures in FL and won 8 matches and one title; then won another Futures title in March. His best win came in April at a Challenger in FL when he beat Ryan Sweeting, who retired at 1-6, 02 down. Brian lost to Sam Querrey in the final, 6-3, 1-6, 6-3.

With this confidence, his next Challenger in April began to reveal some the talent he'd been known for as a young player, along with composure against experienced players. In 8 matches he lost one set (to Michael Russell), and didn't lose more than 4 games in any other set, beating the likes of Robby Ginepri (4 and 4), Robert Kendrick (3 and 1), and Kevin Kim (2 and 2).

The story in the last 2 months has been on the radar. At his first ATP 250 event in Nice a month ago, he went all the way to the final, beating Monfils, Stakhovsky, Kukushkin and Davydenko before losing to #14 Almagro.

Then it was to RG and a win over Xavier Malisse (in the 4th round at The WC against Fed), before losing to 12th seed Simon after leading 2 sets to love.

Before Wimbledon, where he had to win 3 matches to qualify, Baker hadn't played on grass in 7 years before coming to England this month and entering Queens as a qualifier, where he lost to someone ranked #383 in straight sets.

NOW - in a real sense - he will no longer being flying under the radar. On Monday in the 4th round, though the seed he is playing is only #28 Kohlschreiber, his story may compel the referee to play on a show court for the first time (perhaps #2 or 3). A match or two will have to play on an outside court (probably #26 Youzhny v Istomin), and Brian may be lucky enough to be one of those who remain outside, but if he were to reach the quarters, the practice on a show court would be helpful to have under his belt (not that it held Rosol back to see Centre Court for the first time).

Whatever happens in week 2, Brian's story will an inspiration to college players everywhere. they may start to look at their young coaches differently, and to ask why they coach instead of giving the big time another shot...

Rick Devereux

Wimbledon 6.30.12


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