Isner, Baker in the News; Changes in USTA Points Per Round System: USTA Announces Partial Field for AO Wild Card
Two 26-year-old Americans, born within four days of each other, had big wins in professional tennis tournaments over the past two days. John Isner reached his first Masters 1000 semifinal with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed David Ferrer of Spain today, assuring himself a return to the Top 20 as the 2011 season draws to a close. (For more on that match, see Steve Tignor's Racquet Reaction at tennis.com) Isner, of course, spent four years at the University of Georgia and is the standard-bearer for late blooming college-trained players, along with Illinois' Kevin Anderson, and deeper into his career now, James Blake, who spent two years at Harvard.
Brian Baker turned pro at 18, and when the two 17-year-olds both played in Kalamazoo in 2002, there was no question who was considered the better pro prospect. Isner had a great win that year as the No. 20 seed, beating No. 3 seed Rajeev Ram in the fourth round, but he lost in the round of 16 to Brett Joelson, the No. 23 seed. Baker was seeded No. 1, and although he lost in the semifinals, his ball-striking, court positioning (right on the baseline) and feel for the game were evident even in his losses (he also dropped the third-place match to Robert Yim). The following year, Baker went on to reach the finals of the French Junior Championships, beating some very good players in the junior slams as the screenshot below attests:
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Baker had had serious knee injuries, and I believe surgery, as a junior, and his professional career stalled with his hip the primary culprit during his early 20s. Baker went back to school, to Belmont, in his hometown of Nashville, and although training and practicing with area college and junior players, hardly played competitively. This summer he qualified for and won the Pittsburgh Futures, and he reached the semifinals in a September Futures in Canada, but he did not play many of the tournaments he originally entered this summer and fall. He lost in the first round of qualifying in Charlottesville, but this week at the $50,000 Knoxville Challenger, he qualified and has now reached the quarterfinals after yesterday's 6-2, 6-3 win over Charlottesville champion Izak Van Der Merwe of South Africa.
In this article from the Knoxville News Sentinel, Baker reveals that he had Tommy John surgery, which I had never associated with tennis players before, in addition to his hip surgeries. It's certainly reasonable to wonder how much tennis his body can withstand, but there's no doubt he felt compelled to find out.
I'm not suggesting any moral to this story, other than predictions are difficult, life takes unexpected turns and luck plays a role in any career. Baker's had enough bad luck for two tennis players, so I'm hoping he has a Alex Bogomolov-like surge still ahead of him.
The USTA announced that, effective January 1, 2012, it is changing the values in its Points Per Round system in National Level junior tournaments. The justification for the change and a link to the new tables can be found at the USTA Eastern website.
The USTA's Australian Open wild card tournament will again be held at the Racquet Club of the South in Norcross, Georgia. This year's dates are December 16-18, 2011. The eight-player fields are not complete, but four women and three men were named today as participants: CoCo Vandeweghe, Alison Riske, Melanio Oudin, Jamie Hampton, Robby Ginepri, Denis Kudla and Jack Sock. The complete release is here.