Baker takes aim at another of tennis' marquee events

Monday, June 18, 2012 at 6:39pm

Brian Baker has taken one more step in his remarkable return to professional tennis.

The 27-year-old Nashvillian won his opening round match in the Wimbledon men’s qualifying tournament Monday. He still needs two more victories this week to qualify for the 128-player main draw, which opens outside London next Monday.

As the No. 11 seed, Baker zoomed past Radu Albot of Moldova 6-2, 6-3. Former Vanderbilt All-American Bobby Reynolds lost a tough opening round match to Erik Chiojka of Canada 6-3, 5-7, 11-9.

“After the French Open, I took a week off and was definitely feeling the effects of all the matches I had played,” Baker said in an interview with Wimbledon.com. “At Queen’s [last week], I lost in the first round of [qualifying[ and didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing, but [Monday] was a lot better.”

Baker has competed at Wimbledon once in his career, seven years ago.

“It’s good to be back out here,” he said. “I think the last time I played here was 2005, and in the very first game [against Novak Djokovich] I tore my MCL and had to retire.

“It feels great just to be back playing tennis again. Wimbledon is a special event, and I’m hoping I can continue the momentum that I’ve had the last couple of months and qualify and maybe do some damage in the main draw.”

Baker recently returned to the international stage after a six-year absence from the pro tour. A multitude of injuries that required five major operations was the primary reason for his absence.

He went all the way to the finals at Nice, France then got a wild card into the French Open, where he won his opening round match over Xavier Malisse of Belgium.

Former top player and current TV analyst Justin Gimelstob recently called it “the greatest comeback in the sport of tennis.”

Baker has moved up to No. 124 in the latest ATP rankings but fell just below the line of the top 104 players who receive automatic invitations.

The Wimbledon Club awards eight wild cards, which already have been given out, and 16 qualifiers. If Baker lives up to his No. 11 qualifying seed, he would make the main draw.

“It’s amazing what’s happened for Brian in the past year,” his father, Steve Baker, said Monday. “He stayed with it and never gave up.”

Steve Baker and his wife Jackie made the trip to Paris to watch their son compete in the French Open three weeks ago. The couple returned to Nashville and has not ruled out the possibility that both could fly to England for Wimbledon, if need be.

“It’s a possibility I might, but Jackie has a conflict,” Steve Baker said. “Brian still has some tough matches to go before we can even think about that.”

Brian Baker’s next match is Tuesday against left-handed Denis Gremelmayr of Germany.

Looking ahead it would not be surprising if the U.S. Open awarded Baker a wild card.

“Playing main draw at Wimbledon would be awesome,” Baker told TheTicker at Tennis.com right after the French Open. “I don’t mind going through qualifying. I have had some of my best results this year when I’ve had to go that route.”

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