Hoping his rediscovered tennis success transfers smoothly from clay to grass, Nashville's Brian Baker takes aim at his Wimbledon All-England Club opener.
The 2000 Hillwood High graduate, having vaulted into the main draw with three easy qualifying wins the past week, will take on Rui Machado of Portugal on Tuesday.
Baker, 27, won seven of nine matches in tournaments last month in France on clay. He advanced to the finals in Nice then went 1-1 in two matches at the French Open, for which he received a wild card entry into the draw.
Baker has soared to No. 126 in the ATP world rankings (he actually dropped two spots from a week ago). Machado is No. 96 and his ranking was high enough that he didn't have to go through the qualifying draw to get into the Wimbledon field.
"I've never played Rui before,'' Baker told The City Paper via email. "But I know he is a great player. I believe that he won several Challenger titles last year and did OK in ATP tournaments.''
"I've barely watched him play but have been told his strengths are his movement and ground strokes. I'm expecting a tough match but hopefully I will come out on top.''
Baker will have some support as he did in Paris.
His father Steve flew over Saturday and arrived Sunday afternoon, London time. Mom Jackie had a conflict Saturday but was scheduled to travel there Monday.
"This is all pretty amazing,'' Steve Baker said just before boarding a plane Saturday. "To see where he was a year ago to the present, it's unbelievable.''
Baker is fast getting his grass court game in gear, especially with a good hitting partner Friday.
"He wound up hitting with [No. 4 seed] Andy Murray, that was pretty neat,'' Steve Baker said.
Baker’s return to professional tennis this spring came after a litany of injuries sidelined him for the past six years. That included one, which derailed an attempt to play at Wimbledon, arguably the most prestigious event in the sport.
"The last time he was here in 2005, he was ready to play [Novac Djovovic, this year’s No. 1 seed] in a qualifying match when he suffered his ACL knee injury and had to default,” Steve Baker said.
Should Brian Baker win Tuesday, he would meet the winner of the Jankko Nieminen (Finland) and No. 14 seed Feliciano Lopez (Spain) match in the second round.
Long-term, the plan is not exactly clear.
"A lot depends on how he does at Wimbledon,” Steve Baker said. “He tentatively has a Challenger tournament scheduled in Winetka, Ill., followed by the Newport grasscourt tournament in late July in Rhode Island.''