With John Isner back home nursing an injured knee, the last thing American tennis needed was another injury. Yet three days into the Australian Open, that is exactly what has happened, as fate has decreed that the Brian Baker is the next to fall — literally.
Playing against Sam Querrey on Court 6 at Melbourne Park on Wednesday, Baker went down during the second set, clutching a knee that locked. The injury, which tournament organizers said is a torn meniscus requiring surgery that will keep Baker out for four months, forced the oft-injured American to retire with a 7-6, 1-1 lead, leaving Querrey devastated at what had happened to his compatriot.
“He’s the last person that deserves anything like that with his five or six surgeries already,” said Querrey, referring to the fact that Baker was out of the game for five years with a series of injuries before making a highly successful come back early last year (though this is his first serious knee injury). “He does everything right; treats his body great, just trying to come back and then something like that happens. It’s just so unlucky.”
Querrey said that Baker told him he felt his knee “almost buckle and kind of hear like a pop or a snap. He could straighten it, he couldn’t walk.”
So the sympathetic crowd of about 1,000 saw a high quality duel terminated by the unhappy sight of Baker taken away in a wheel chair.
Although it hardly matters now, Baker had been striking the ball even better than Querrey and had dominated the tie break, which he won 7-2. The man from Nashville, Tenn., got down low to play a beautiful forehand volley to reach set point. Did he tweak something in play that shot? Who knows? But it was not long after that he suddenly collapsed after completing a point.
With Americans so thin on the ground, this is bad news for Jim Courier’s Davis Cup team that is due to play Brazil at Jacksonville, Fla., early next month. With Isner doubtful, Baker, 57th in the ATP world rankings, would have been challenging Ryan Harrison for a singles spot behind Querrey.
Querrey talked some more about what Baker’s return to the tour had meant to American tennis: “It’s been great. The more Americans in the top 100 the better. Brian rose up really quickly and has kind of established himself as, you know, in my mind he’s a top 50 player and he can beat guys who are top 20, top 10. It’s great to have him there. He deserves to be there. He’s been so unfortunate in the last six, seven years. If he can heal quickly or even if it takes a year, I think he can get back right where he is now. He’s talented. He’s good enough.”
”It’s a shame,” said fellow American Tim Smyczek after his second-round loss to Spaniard David Ferrer. ”He’s such a good player. He’s got so much talent and he’s got great tennis IQ. He’s just had the worst luck.”
Meanwhile Madison Keys lent further credence to the feeling that the 17-year-old American is ready for the pro tour by sweeping into the third round with an impressive 6-2, 6-1 victory over the 30th seed from Austria, Tamira Paszek, in just 56 minutes. Keys, who beat Australia’s Casey Dellacqua 6-4, 7-6 in the first round, has yet to drop a set.
“The first round was a little bit nerve-wracking,” Keys admitted, “You know, playing an Australian, big court, crowd was against me. But I think today it was much better having that one match under my belt.”
Keys will play fifth-seeded Angelique Kerber next up after the German took down Lucie Hradecka 6-3, 6-1. The young American, whose parents are both lawyers and never played tennis, is looking forward to the challenge. “She’s obviously a good player but I think I just really have to focus on my game and worry about me. Just focus on what I’m doing.”
Tomas Berdych, the No. 5 seed who is in Novak Djokovic’s quarter of the draw, was locked in as he powered his way past Frenchman Guillaume Rufin 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.
Tim Smyczek, who got into the draw as a lucky loser, put up a creditable performance against the No. 4 seed David Ferrer before going down 6-0, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.
Rushed out of the first set, the American Smyczek started to stay in the rallies, using his speed to match those of the Spaniard. His ability to run down balls and return well earned him the third set but Ferrer re-established his command of the match in the fourth.
"At 6-0, 3-0 down I was starting to worry about a triple bagel," Smyczek laughed afterwards. "So I realized I had to take some risks and go for my shots. I have modeled my game on him and he’s just a better version of myself. He was giving some of my own medicine. But it’s nice to know I’m on the right track and just have to work on improving all parts of my game. It was an awesome experience."