Then came the injuries, steady and relentless. Shortly after turning pro, Baker underwent three hip surgeries -- bear in mind, this injury has been the death knell for so many players -- a Tommy John elbow surgery and a sports hernia operation. For more than six years, he was effectively out of pro tennis.
Last summer, moonlighting as an assistant coach for Belmont College in Nashville, Baker began a tentative comeback. He won a few matches. Then a few more. He was encouraged but didn't want to overexert the body that had betrayed him so many times. But the hits kept coming -- and pain didn't. Last week in Savannah, he qualified for the main draw and then ran the table, winning the title on Sunday, the day before he turned 27. Coupled with his success the prior week in Sarasota, he nabbed the USTA's "reciprocity wild card" and booked a spot in the main draw of the French Open. Here's nice write-up.
Tennis has a huge capacity to serve us disappointment. Look no further than Andrea Petkovic, the endearing German who had a breakthrough 2011, suffered an injury that sideline her for the first third of 2012, came back last week only to injure her ankle and will now miss the French Open, Wimbledon and the Olympics. But tennis also has a capacity to serve up some tremendous feel-good stories. Consider Baker one of them.
? Here's our latest SI Tennis Podcast. Chris Evert sits in for a sessions and was, predictably, great. This is worth 40 minutes of your time.
? Doubles winners: Iva Benesova and Babs Zahlavova Strycova took the Stuttgart title. Petra Cetkovska and Alexandra Panova hoisted hardware in Fez. On the men's side, the polar Poles Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski took Barcelona. Carsten Ball and Bobby Reynolds won Savannah.
? In Fez, qualifier Kiki Bertens of the Nethlerlands recovered from a shaky start to win her first WTA title, beating Laura Pous-Tio 7-5, 6-0.
? Gilles Simon wins the Bucharest event and gets the "BRD Nastase Tiriac Trophy" -- which, one suspects, has been privy to some wild times.
? A clap of the racket to Ashley Hendrick, a tennis player for Aquinas College, who played her final college match last weekend at her team's regionals. We wrote about Ashley several years ago and it got quite a bit of response. Happy to say the story has only gotten better.