COSTA MESA, CA. His once promising career hamstrung by injuries, Brian Baker’s dominance in the ITF Pro Circuit tournament last week was further evidence that the 26-year-old is back with a vengeance.
Baker, the number four seed, defeated fifth seeded Gregory Ouellette 61 62 to claim the title. More important, it’s the latest significant accomplishment for a player who, after toppling the ATP World Number Nine at the US Open in 2005, has endured five major surgeries.
“I’ve still got a long way to go to get really fit, but I’m getting closer,” said Baker, a Nashville resident who in 2004 reached 172 in the world rankings before the first of three hip surgeries. He’s also undergone a sports hernia surgery as well as Tommy John surgery on his shoulder.
“I’m a little sore today, but I played well, particularly on defense” he said. “It was just a really clean match and I think I just handled the windy conditions a little better.”
Baker turned pro in 2003, right out of high school. His biggest victory came two years later, when he beat Gaston Gaudio in the first round of the US Open. But then came the injuries. He didn’t compete professionally from 2008-10, choosing to return to college at Nashville’s Belmont University, where he currently serves as an assistant tennis coach.
His return to the Pro Circuit came in April 2011, when he won an event in Pittsburgh. He played four other events last year, reaching one final.
Here in Costa Mesa Baker not only won every set, he was rarely in danger. After Nick Lindahl retired with an injury after three games in the first set of round one, Baker summarily dispatched Rudolf Siwy 63 63 in the second round, Artem Sitak 63 75 in the quarterfinal, Joshua Zavala 61 62 in the semifinal and Ouellette 61 62 in the final.
“He’s one of the best ball-strikers in the world,” said Ouellette, a four-time All-American at the University of Florida, who entered the event ranked 395 in the world. “I’d put him up there with anyone. If you don’t bring your best game, he is really tough to beat.”
Baker, who entered the event ranked 395, will move up in the world rankings with this victory. But he’s not concerned with world rankings at this point.
“Really, I’m not focused on results right now,” he said. “I just want to get fitter and stay healthy. If that happens, the rest will come.”
The doubles championship, held Saturday, saw Trabuco Canyon, and UCLA player, Nicolas Meister and partner John Peers topple Newport Beach’s Carsten Ball and partner Andre Begemann in a fiercely contested contest.
For Meister, 22, his fifth ITF Pro Circuit doubles title (his second with Peers) was especially significant since it took place at the Costa Mesa Tennis Center.
“I grew up here,” said Meister, a fifth-year senior at UCLA. “I poured gallons of sweat and blood on these courts as a junior player. It does make [this win] sweeter.”
After winning the first set 63 Meister and Peers dropped the second, 67(1) to take the final into a deciding set Match Tiebreak. Trailing 5-1 the duo battled back and, taking advantage of a double-fault by Begemann on point 31, pulled off a17-15 victory.