Perhaps the most interested local observer of Wimbledon is a guy who hates that he's not there.
As the prestigious grass court tennis tournament outside of London enters its second week Monday, Nashville’s Brian Baker had some interesting observations to make following a stunning first week chock full of huge upsets and injuries.
Baker, 28, who has fought his way through six surgeries in five years, delayed his comeback to the tour to devote an extra month toward his recovery process. It was a tough decision, especially in view of his success last year, which included a career-best fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon.
“Wimbledon has definitely been pretty crazy this first week,’’ Baker said in an interview with The City Paper over the weekend. “I can’t remember another year where so many top seeds on both the men’s and women’s sides have lost this early."
In a men’s draw where seeded players have dropped like flies, this would have presented a perfect scenario for Baker, who is listed No. 123 in the latest Association of Tennis Professionals rankings.
Last June, he made it to the second week before he lost a tough 6-1, 7-6, 6-3 decision to Phillipp Kohlschreiber of Germany.
This year, with players like Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, John Isner, among others, going out early, a player such as Baker potentially could have maneuvered his way well into the second week of the tournament.
In one day, seven players withdrew with injuries after slips on the grass, notably No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the No. 18 seed Isner and No. 2 women’s seed Victoria Azarenka. Then Nadal fell to No. 135 ranked Steve Darcis and Federer was knocked out the next day by No. 116 Sergiy Stokovsky. Oddly, Darcis pulled out the next day due to a shoulder injury.
“It’s been a shame with all the withdrawals and retirements due to injury, especially the injuries caused by slips on the grass," Baker, who turned pro in 2003, said. "Nadal going out in the first round, followed by Federer in the second, they have to be the biggest surprises. However, with no warmup tournament for Nadal, first rounds on grass can always be a little tricky. Darcis may be ranked No. 135, but he has won two titles and has been in the top 75 most of his career. On top of that, he moves well on grass and also has a great backhand slice. So it’s a still a major upset, but Darcis is a very good player. Same can said about Stakovsky over Federer."
Asked for a prediction on a winner for Sunday's men’s final said, “My prediction is [Novak] Djokovic vs. [Andy] Murray in the final."
“It think it’s a tossup between those two," he added. "Murray was so close last year, then won the Olympics on grass, so he is very capable of taking down Novak if they play."
Baker has targeted his tour return not far from home, the BB&T Atlanta Open, which begins July 22. The $546,000 hard court tournament is the first of the U.S. Open Series.
"It’s hard to put a percentage on my health," he said. “It’s been an up and down ride these past couple of weeks and months. Some days I feel 90 percent and some more like 70 percent. I’m still improving each week, though, and am looking forward to Atlanta July 22."
Meanwhile, he will kick back and watch the final week of Wimbledon, while disappointed not to be there.
“I just miss its atmosphere," he said. "There is so much tradition at the All-England Club and the fan support is fantastic. Outside courts at Wimbledon probably have the best fan support of any Grand Slam."