The feel-good story so far of the clay court season has got to be Brian Baker who at age 27 has emerged from being a good story to a great story to being one that will likely get overhyped by American sports media for the next week at Roland Garros. After all, American men haven’t really been a factor in Paris for over a decade and though John Isner earned some “clay court GOAT” status early in February after he beat Roger Federer in Davis Cup, his recent lackluster form suggests that a run into the second week is more a longshot for him than anything else.
That’s why the U.S. networks have to be salivating over Baker and his impressive clay court run from the qualifying rounds of the Savannah challenger, to earning the USTA wildcard into the French Open, to his run to the finals of Nice, where he took out Gael Monfils and Nikolay Davydenko, before losing today to Nicolas Almagro in the finals. With what looks like a winnable match against Xavier Malisse in the first round of Paris, some prominent U.S. sports writers are already saying Baker could be a factor in the event.
A tad overhype? Of course it is, but Baker’s backstory of being a winning junior and then having a promising early start in his pro career before a series of injuries sidelined him until he started playing again this year plus all his recent success is a perfect package that the media has to jump on especially with the fact that, outside of Isner, there’s very little to talk about regarding U.S. men’s chances in Paris. One wonders if Baker will be ready for the deluge of media requests that will likely await him in Paris and if he’ll even have time to enjoy his well-deserved moment of simply being back on the courts of Roland Garros.
I certainly hope so but it may be that Baker, if he can continue his fine form into the summer hardcourt season, could well be the story that ignites more audience in the U.S. for the professional game. Despite the growth of tennis as a recreational sport in the country, widespread interest in the “big leagues” has dwindled, mainly due to a lack of Americans, outside of Serena Williams, from being contenders at the Majors. Baker’s story is definitely one that will get picked up on, even by outlets that don’t cover tennis except during Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
Whatever happens, here’s hoping Brian Baker enjoys success and health as he
continues to prove that it’s never too late to go for your dream. Will he be the “next greatest American hero” in tennis? Stay tuned.