Brian Baker bides his time in wake of latest injury

Monday, February 25, 2013 at 12:56am

After six years out of professional tennis, Brian Baker reaped the rewards of his comeback in one career reaffirming year.

The Nashville native climbed as high as 52nd in the ATP rankings and collected a career-high $376,262 in earnings. Of course, that makes filing his taxes a tad more difficult.

Unfortunately for him, Baker has plenty of time to spend with his 1040 as he recovers from his sixth major surgery.

“I’m just trying to stay busy any way I can,” Baker said. “It is nice to be home and see a lot of friends you don’t get to see too much. But you just wish it was for other reasons and not because you can’t go play.”

Baker stopped by Belmont and the Curb Event Center on Saturday night, when he was honored before the Bruins’ game against Ohio. Baker spent three years at Belmont as an assistant tennis coach and student before he jumped back onto the tour in 2011.

He enjoyed an improbable run in 2012, which included winning a match in the French Open and reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon. The 27-year-old had hoped to make another Grand Slam run this year. But in the first round of the Australian Open in January he injured his knee and removed himself from the match.

“I didn’t even think I made a really crazy move,” he said. “I felt something slip and pop and that was it. I knew something was not right when I did it. First time you hear a pop maybe it’s like, ‘OK, something just loosened up or shake it off.’ I couldn’t straighten my leg after that happened so I knew something was not going to be good.”

Baker tore his lateral meniscus in his right knee. He underwent surgery four days after he got back from Australia. Doctors used nine stitches to repair the tear, which Baker said requires a longer recovery time as opposed to “if they just trim it up and clean it out.”

“Hopefully for the long-term success of the knee it is the better option,” Baker said. “I would have had surgery regardless if I was trying to play tennis or not to live. It is frustrating but hopefully in four or five months I’ll be back and I can work on some other things while I’m out and I’ll try to get stronger, get better.”

Five weeks after the surgery, Baker is back home and rehabbing in Cool Springs. He hopes to be able to start getting on the elliptical machine next week, followed by running and cutting in the next two weeks. He hopes to be practicing in two months and is already talking about heading to Florida at that point to train with “better competition.”

Returning for the French Open in late May offers a nice target but Baker says it will depend on how he feels. He can also request the ATP for a protective ranking, which is eligible to players who are physically injured and don’t compete in a tournament for at least six months.

“I’m not going to push it to where it is going to endanger the rest of the year or my knee is not ready,” he said. “I think [playing in a Grand Slam] is an extra motivating aspect on the rehab just knowing if I push harder maybe I can get back sooner. But at the end of the day it is going to be how I feel on the court. If I’m ready to go, I’m going to go play. If I’m not it will be disappointing but I’ll hopefully be able to play a ton more Grand Slams in the future.”

Regular appearances in Grand Slams appeared to be in the cards for Baker when he graduated from Hillwood High School in 2003. That same year he reached the Roland Garros final and was ranked second in the junior world rankings.

However, a slew of injuries and subsequent surgeries — three on his hip, one on his elbow and a sports hernia — kept him sidelined for nearly six years.

Therefore, a world without injury and adversity is foreign to him even if he wonders sometimes.

“You always dream or think about it a little bit,” he said. “I got to the point a long time ago where you just have to take it as it is, move on and play with what you’re dealt. I think the more you look in the past and wonder, ‘What if?’ the worst it is going be. Of course, everybody does it and I’m no different. But I try not to do that very often. … There is hope knowing that if I am healthful I can do a lot of good things.”