The Brian Baker odyssey came to an undeserving end Wednesday when the 27-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., went down 6-0 in the fifth set to the No. 12 seed, Gilles Simon, in the second round of the French Open.
Just a short while later, Venus Williams proved herself unable to gain revenge for sister Serena and lost 6-2, 6-3 to No. 3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
Baker’s final set had little to do with what had gone before. Playing only his second match in a Grand Slam tournament since 2005, Baker continued to show what might have been had he not needed five separate surgeries, on his hips and elbow. Baker came back from two sets down in the first five-set match he had ever played. It finished 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (4), 1-6, 6-0 for Simon.
When Simon wrapped up the second set, Baker appeared out on his feet. He was, after all, playing his 10th match in 12 days, having reached the final in Nice after playing through the qualifying. That is not an easy workload for a player of his age and medical history.
Baker, however, refused to go away. He surprised Simon by moving the Frenchman around with his drop shots and deep-hit forehands. Baker changed the momentum to such an extent that he leveled the match by totally dominating the fourth set.
Afterward, he insisted that it was not fatigue alone that caused him to slump to defeat in the fifth.
"Of course, I was feeling it in the body,” he said. “But it was more a case of me playing a couple of bad points in the first two games of the set. I was a little more nervous, being one set away from winning, and I tried to end a couple of points too soon.”
The fact he had lifted himself from the Middle Tennessee Tennis League, which his father organizes on Thursday nights, to the Philippe Chatrier Centre Court at Roland Garros has, of course, been something of a fairy tale. But Baker has had little time to reflect on it.
“When I get back to the hotel room at night, I do think I have been achieving some pretty cool things,” he said. “Obviously it’s the biggest thing I have done in my career. But when I get back to the courts, I just have to focus on practice and my matches. There hasn’t been much time.”
Venus spent a lot less time on Center Court than her sister had in that dramatic encounter with Virginie Razzano the previous night. Radwanska raced away to a 4-0 lead and never allowed the older Williams to bring her firepower to bear. Venus has gotten past the quarterfinals in Paris only once, and the fact clay is her least-favorite surface was evident at every turn. Radwanska was simply too good.
But, even though the first clouds of the tournament arrived in early evening and eventually curtailed play as rain began to fall, it was not all doom and gloom despite even more American defeats.
Sloane Stephens, an upbeat personality if ever there was one, scored her second victory in two weeks against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, this time by 6-1, 6-1. The points were short, as the powerful Stephens went for her shots, and that produced just the outcome she was hoping for.
“I’m a little sick,” she said, “so I wasn’t expecting to go out and grind all day. I had an itchy throat and runny nose when I woke up this morning, so I hope it is not going to develop into anything. The short points kind of helped me.”
Mattek-Sands had no excuses to offer.
“I just made too many mistakes,” she said. “And Sloane is playing good.”
The same could not be said for some of the other American women who had done so well in the first round. Facing far superior opposition the second time around, they fell like ninepins throughout the day. Reigning US Open champion Samantha Stosur dispatched Irina Falconi 6-1, 6-4. Italy’s Sara Errani, the No. 21 seed, beat Melanie Oudin 6-2, 6-3. And Vania King was never allowed to get started by the 15th-seeded Slovakian Dominika Cibulkova and crashed 6-0, 6-2.
Just before the rain started, Alexa Glatch from Newport Beach, Calif., met Flavia Pennetta, the Italian she had beaten 6-1, 6-1 here in 2009. Despite uncorking some terrific forehand service return winners and breaking serve twice, Glatch never came close to repeating that effort and went down 6-3, 6-1.
Roger Federer preceded Simon and Baker on Center Court and made them wait a little longer than he should have done by wasting two match points in the third-set tiebreaker against Romania’s Adrian Ungur. Federer lost the set and had to regroup before winning 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3.
“Instead of being aggressive, I let him show me what he could do,” Federer said. “He played two beautiful shots, and then I started playing not so well. But in the end, I had some margin. I felt far better than during the first round.”
No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic had no such lapses and cruised through to the third round 6-0, 6-4, 6-4 against the Slovakian Blaz Kavcic.