(l to r) Costa Mesa Futures finalist Gregory Ouellette, Costa Mesa council woman Wendy Leece and champion Brian Baker
By Joel Beers, special to USTA.com
COSTA MESA, Calif. -- His one promising career hamstrung by injuries, Brian Baker’s dominance in the Costa Mesa Pro Classic was further evidence that the 26-year-old is back with a vengeance.
Baker, the No. 4 seed, defeated No. 5 Gregory Ouellette, 6-1, 6-2, to claim the $1,950 first prize and 27 ATP points. More importantly, it’s the latest significant accomplishment for a player who, after topping the world’s 9th-ranked player in the US Open in 2005, has endured five major surgeries.
The event was held at the Costa Mesa Tennis Center, the first of two USTA Pro Circuit events it will hold this year. The next comes in September.
"I’ve still got a long way to go to get really fit, but I’m getting closer," said Baker, a Nashville resident who in 2004 reached No. 172 in the world rankings before the first of three hip surgeries. He has also undergone sports hernia surgery, as well as Tommy John surgery on his shoulder.
"I’m a little sore today, but I played well, particularly on defense," he said. "It was just a really clean match, and I think I just handled the windy conditions a little better."
Baker turned pro in 2003, right out of high school. His biggest victory came two years later, when he beat Gaston Gaudio in the first round of the US Open, but then came then injuries. He didn’t compete professionally from 2008-10, choosing to return to college at Nashville’s Belmont University, where he currently serves as an assistant tennis coach.
His return to the USTA Pro Circuit came in April 2011, when he won an event in Pittsburgh. He played four other events last year, reaching one final.
In 2012, Baker has competed six times, winning once at a tournament in January in Florida.
But neither of his two wins the past year were as dominant as this one. Baker not only won every set, he was rarely in danger. After Nick Lindahl retired with an injury in the first set of round one, Baker summarily dispatched Rudolf Siwy, 6-3, 6-3, in the second round, Artem Sitak, 6-3, 7-5, in the quarterfinals, Joshua Zavala, 6-1, 6-2, in the semifinals and Ouellette, 6-1, 6-2, in the final.
"He’s one of the best ball-strikers in the world," said Ouellette, a four-time All-American at the University of Florida, who entered the event ranked 395th in the world. "I’d put him up there with anyone. If you don’t bring your best game, he is really tough to beat."
Baker, who entered the event ranked 395th, will move up in the world rankings with this victory. But he’s not concerned with world rankings at this point.
"Really, I’m not focused on results right now," he said. "I just want to get fitter and stay healthy. If that happens, the rest will come."
ABOUT THE USTA PRO CIRCUIT
With approximately 90 tournaments hosted annually throughout the country and prize money ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, the USTA Pro Circuit is the pathway for the U.S. Open and tour-level competition for aspiring players and a frequent battleground for established professionals. The USTA launched its Pro Circuit 33 years ago to provide players with the opportunity to gain professional ranking points, and it has since grown to become the largest developmental tennis circuit in the world, offering nearly $3 million in prize money. Last year, more than 1,000 men and women from more than 70 countries competed in cities nation-wide. Maria Sharapova, Andy Roddick, Caroline Wozniacki, James Blake, Li Na, Andy Murray and Mardy Fish are among today’s top stars who began their careers on the USTA Pro Circuit.