“Comeback Kid” Brian Baker trips up in first round of the Citi Open
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Hot off his stellar fourth round appearance at this year’s Wimbledon Championships, Baker has failed to progress past the first round in his last two events in Atlanta and Los Angeles, and he can now add Washington, D.C. to this list.
Ranked outside of the top 300 just three months ago, and not having played a full ATP schedule since 2005 due to numerous injuries, the comeback kid’s dream to the top is taking a temporary detour this summer.
With such great results earlier in the year, the question arises whether it’s more of a physical or mental hurdle that is slowing him down currently.
“Fitness-wise, I was fine today. It wasn’t an issue. I definitely took some time off after Wimbledon – had some aches and pains. But it hasn’t been the physical aspect of [playing so much], it’s just been maybe more the mental aspect coming back after such a high [at Wimbledon], and then starting over… I definitely haven’t played my best tennis in all the last three weeks. I don’t think I’ve competed poorly, … I just haven’t given myself a lot of chances on the big points.”
Prior to Atlanta, Baker has had to go through qualifying matches in most of his Tour-level events and he admits that “I tend to play my best tennis if I get a couple of matches under my belt.” It seems that with every tournament, he needs to build his confidence and get familiar with his settings. But if he is to keep up his ranking at world No. 78 or better, he’ll have to get used to jumping into tournaments quickly and adjusting to the conditions. Otherwise, he’ll continue dropping in the first round of tournaments this summer.
Surprisingly, in the first set, Baker was up a double break and held easy to win 6-4. In the second set he admits to not being “very sharp the first couple return games” and Serra took lead, winning 6-3. During the third set, Baker simply couldn’t string enough points together and his served failed him, double-faulting three times. He only converted 3-of-16 break points for the match, and had 43 unforced errors. Baker commented on these gaping holes, and said that “it’s not typical of me to make so many unforced errors. All summer, I played pretty clean matches… I had three pretty good draws, I should have won all three matches. I think it’s just been more [that] I haven’t been playing great – the confidence wasn’t there.”
Whatever happens during the rest of the hard court season, there’s no doubt that Baker still has hunger for the game after being away for so many years. He’s ready to battle and says that it’s “sometimes nice to go in being the underdog … being the hunter.”
Sloane Stephens pushed by Karatantcheva, but prevails in three
American golden girl Sloane Stephens, currently ranked No. 50 in the world and seeded third here, was given a scare when six breaks of serve were exchanged with her opponent Sesil Karatantcheva in the second set that saw the two split sets. Despite some strange line calls on a court that doesn’t have the Hawkeye challenge system, Stephens luckily kicked it into high gear by straight way breaking her opponent twice at the start of the final set.
Always a personable character both on and off-the-court, Stephens is quick to sign autographs or chat with fans during her down time. But when it comes to her game on court, she has a personal motto she lives by. After losing in the first round of the last two tournaments she played in at Stanford and Carlsbad, she joked that “You just can’t ever lose three [first round matches] in a row — it’s not even an option.”
With that attitude and a steadily increasing ranking that makes her the second youngest in the top 100, Stephens is sure to make a lasting impact in American women’s tennis. Like her self-proclaimed “bestie” Serena Williams, Stephens carries a powerful forehand, immense athletic ability and has a passion for the sport of tennis that will no doubt help her break into the top 10 soon.