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Brian Baker's Cindarella Story

Everyone knows the fairytale about Cindarella. A girl, deprived of the position in the family that she deserves, helped by her fairy godmother, defies the odds to escape her situation and attend the ball, where she meets her prince. Entirely unexpected and against all the odds.

The tale of Brian Baker follows the same story. Runner-up at Roland Garros juniors in 2003, he reached #2 in the world as a junior. He was the next big hope of American tennis. He gradually worked his way up the rankings and was awarded a wildcard into the 2005 US Open, ranked number 195 in the world. Drawn to play the ninth seed, Gaston Gaudio, who only a year earlier had lifted his first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, he stunned the Argentinean, winning in straight sets.

Brian Baker

He would lose in the second round to Xavier Malisse, but he had made his impact on the big stage. However, he would not return to the court in a main draw ATP match for almost seven years. In a nightmare three years after that monumental US Open victory, he would undergo surgery five times – twice on his left hip, once on his right hip, once on a hernia, and reconstructive surgery on his right elbow.

Meanwhile, he would remain involved in the game, working as a tennis coach at Belmont University in Nashville. Naturally, there were dark moments. In USA Today, he explained, “sitting in the operation room, I told myself that I’m not going to keep on coming back, having surgery, prolong my ‘career’, if I can call it that.”

Ignoring a failed comeback in 2007, the next time he would step on court at any level was in July 2011. Having not played a match in almost four years, he had no ranking and had to rely on a wildcard into an ITF tournament in Pittsburgh. Cruising through qualifying into the main draw, he sailed to the title without dropping a set, demonstrating that he still had a future in the game.

His first venture into the challenger level saw him lose 6-2, 6-2 to former British number two, Alex Bogdanovic, but he remained determined to succeed. The following week, he raced through the draw in Knoxville, losing to the Canadian, Jesse Levine, in the final. Savannah, in April 2012, would be the location of Baker’s first challenger title for almost eight years. However, that was just a prelude to his dream reappearance on the big stage.

Qualification in Nice was simple, and on the 22nd May, 2012, Brian Baker returned to the court for his first full-draw match since his defeat to Malisse at the US Open in 2005. However, he was not there to make up the numbers. Several impressive victories, including wins over Gael Monfils and former world number 4, Nikolay Davydenko, saw him reach an unlikely final. Despite being comfortably beaten by Nicolas Almagro, he had proven that he belonged at that level.

Fittingly, his first Grand Slam match in almost eight years came against the same opponent that had beaten him on the previous occasion. This time, Baker beat Malisse in straight sets at Roland Garros. Since then, a  fourth round at Wimbledon and a second round at the US Open has propelled him to the verge of the world's top 50.

However, it is time to return to the section of the Cindarella fairytale that is generally ignored in these stories. At midnight, her fairy godmother’s magic elapses and Cindarella is forced to leave the ball, returning to her life of servitude. Darkness returns.

Sadly, Baker’s story is following the fairytale almost to the word. 7-6, 1-1 ahead against his compatriot, Sam Querrey, in the Australian Open, he over-hit a shot and crumpled to the ground. In obvious agony, he struggled back to his seat, where he tore his headband off in frustration. He is no stranger to serious injury, and it was obvious from his reaction that he knew this was serious.

Querrey explained in the interview afterwards, “he said he kind of felt his knee almost buckle and kind of heard like a pop or a snap. He didn’t know if it was bones or a tear, but he couldn’t straighten it, couldn’t walk.”

Wheeled off the court in a wheelchair, the tennis world feared the worst. Speculation of a ACL tear spread – a serious injury for any athlete.

Given those rumours, the announcement that he had only torn his lateral meniscus and that he would likely return in around four months was almost greeted with a sigh of relief. Clearly, it is still a serious injury, but it seems likely that he will return this year. Yet another surgery will be required, but he is no stranger to that.

Yet, as everybody knows, the Cindarella tale does not end there. It is meant to be happy after all. Having lost her slipper at the ball, the prince searches non-stop until he finds her and rescues her from her destitution  ending with the couple living happily ever after.

It is too soon to predict the impact of this injury on Baker. However, given the struggles that he has overcome to this day, you know that he will not give in. He has given almost everything to live his dream. One only hopes that his story will continue to follow that of Cindarella, and that he will achieve his happy ending.

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