June 26, 2012, 12:34 PM.
The Next Stop on Baker’s Comeback Tour
By Tom Perrotta
For a tennis player who has had five surgeries, a little soreness and a few bags of ice are nothing to complain about. Brian Baker even welcomes them.
After qualifying the hard way, Brian Baker won his first match at Wimbledon on Tuesday in straight sets.“I don’t think anybody goes onto the court 100% healthy every match — if they do, props to them,” said Baker, who sat with his shoulder wrapped in ice after the latest installment of his tennis comeback, his first-ever victory at Wimbledon. “But when I’m on the court, I feel good enough to play, for sure.”
Baker is more than “good enough.” He’s playing the best tennis of his career and looking like he more than belongs on the pro tour he longed to play on for so many injury-filled years. First he got a wild card into the French Open, where he won a round. At Wimbledon, he had to win three matches to qualify for his first spot in the main draw. And now he has won a round at Wimbledon, 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-0 over Rui Machado. He said the ice was a precaution. “I always ice my shoulder after matches,” he said. “It’s something I do after the match to make sure I’m OK.”
Baker’s father, Steve, said his son hadn’t played on grass in seven years until he entered the qualifying tournament for Queen’s Club the week before last, when he lost his first match. Many thought that Wimbledon ought to offer Baker a wild card into the main draw here, but the All England Club isn’t the sort of organization that follows popular opinion or the latest polls. Baker said it was probably for the best.
“I lost at Queen’s in quallies and didn’t feel like I was playing well on the grass at all,” he said. “Maybe it was a blessing in disguise to have to go through three matches.”
Baker’s entourage is smaller here. His father and mother are at Wimbledon, and so his his girlfriend. His mother’s sister flew over, too. They gathered on Court 16 to watch Tuesday but only did so because a friend who lives here — and once coached Baker as a kid — was able to secure tickets. Baker is relaxed about it all. In Paris, he played the day after arriving from another tournament. Wimbledon hasn’t been as hectic, especially since he feels like he belongs.
“I’m not thinking, ‘Oh, man, this is awesome,’” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s cool, like what I’ve been able to do, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’m enjoying the moment. But every time, like when these guys see me here and everything else, it’s more like, how am I going to win the next match?” His next one will be against Jarkko Nieminen, who upset Feliciano Lopez.
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Mardy Fish, who won his first-round match Tuesday, canceled his press conference because he was feeling ill, according to an ATP representative. Fish recently had a medical procedure to correct a heart arrhythmia. The ATP representative said Fish planned to continue playing Wimbledon and might make himself available to the media on Wednesday.
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The U.S. Tennis Association announced Tuesday the tennis team that will represent the country at the London Olympics. Serena Williams will lead four women’s singles players — the others are Christina McHale, Venus Williams and Varvara Lepchenko — while Lisa Raymond and Liezel Huber will play doubles, as will the Williams sisters. For the men, Andy Roddick, John Isner, Ryan Harrison and Donald Young will play singles. Bob and Mike Bryan will play doubles, along with Roddick and Isner. This year’s Olympics will also include mixed doubles, but those teams won’t be chosen until the event begins.
When showers returned to Wimbledon at around 8:15 p.m. local time Tuesday night, 12 matches were left unfinished. But don’t blame the rain. The problem isn’t the weather, it’s modern tennis. In brief: It takes forever.
We’ve already seen a nearly six-hour Grand Slam final this year, at the Australian Open. That followed a nearly five-hour semifinal. At the French Open, numerous matches were delayed during the first week, when skies were blue. And when the weather in Paris did take a turn for the worse, the tournament didn’t conclude on Sunday for first time since 1973. This happened even though the French Open already has an extra day compared to the other three Grand Slam events (its first round begins on Sunday, not Monday).
There wasn’t a drop of precipitation at Wimbledon Monday, yet two men’s singles matches, two women’s singles matches and two men’s doubles matches couldn’t be completed. Imagine the surprise of Ana Ivanovic and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez when they picked up the order of play for Tuesday: Their match was scheduled for “not before 5:00 p.m.” … somewhere. The tournament didn’t assign them a court, because too many other matches had to be completed first. The same went for Dominika Cibulkova and Klara Zakopalova. Both of those matches didn’t even begin Tuesday and are now scheduled for Wednesday.
Wimbledon isn’t ignoring the problem. For the first time this year, the tournament is starting matches on outer courts (Courts 2-12 and 14-19) at 11:30 a.m. for at least the first eight days of the event. From 1992 through last year, those matches had started at noon. Centre Court matches now start at 1 p.m. on every day except for the day of a final, and Court 1 starts at 1 p.m. every day. Many of those matches started at 2 p.m. before 2001. From 1919 to 1982, all matches on all courts started at 2 p.m.
Here’s the trouble: Wimbledon isn’t adapting fast enough—and maybe it can’t. As tennis has moved to a grueling baseline game that stresses fitness, matches are taking longer and longer. And players are taking more time to recover between points, too. An extra half hour a day often won’t be enough to make up for that, even without rain, in the early rounds of an event. Though the rest of the Grand Slam tournaments start play at 11 a.m., Wimbledon’s grass complicates matters. There’s dew in the morning, and a longer day on the lawns could beat them up. The same goes for putting more matches on Centre Court, where there’s a roof. By the time the tournament concludes, the final might be a de facto replay of the French Open final – played on dirt.
There are possible resolutions that Wimbledon will have to consider. Another roof would help, and there could be one, albeit 10 years from now or more. More outer courts would be a plus. Another tradition that could well go by the wayside is best-of-five-set men’s doubles matches. No other Grand Slam has that, and those take a lot of time. Johnny Perkins, a spokesman for the All England Club, said the tournament would consider further action.
“Tennis is an unpredictable sport, and while matches are generally getting longer, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves,” Perkins said. “We’ll see how we go with the extra half an hour.”
At least there’s one roof over Centre Court. Now, if only Wimbledon would use it. Instead of closing the roof Tuesday evening and continuing a match between Caroline Wozniacki and Tamira Paszek (it was 2-2 in the first set), the tournament told the players to come back Wednesday. The official reason? This match wasn’t scheduled for Centre Court in the first place, so it was up to the referee to decide whether it ought to continue. And then there’s this: It takes 25-40 minutes to close the roof and condition the air inside. Even for a roof, it was too late.