By Erwin Ong
CINCINNATI -- American wildcard Brian Baker successfully returned to the ATP tour with a win against Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
While wearing a sleeve on his knee, Baker ground out a 7-5, 6-3 win against the journeyman, crediting a great serving performance to notch the victory.
The sleeve, a precaution, stems from an injury Baker sustained at the 2013 Australian Open, which forced him out of the game for six months. While he had initially planned to return at the BB&T Atlanta Open earlier this summer, Baker delayed his return until this week. "I just wasn't quite ready," Baker said, referring to a return in Atlanta. "[I] needed a couple more weeks."
The accident in Melbourne derailed his career at a time when American men’s tennis needs the best roster it can assemble. Team USA is currently without a player in the top 20, the first time since the ATP rankings came out in 1973. Baker is aware of this glaring statistic, and explains it away as the state of the men’s game. "I just think that the sport's obviously gotten a lot more global, and the top four guys are probably the best four guys we've seen."
But he’s also ready for the questions to stop. "Hopefully we get some guys coming up,, and John [Isner] and Sam [Querrey] to play really well at a Slam and try to quiet some of the critics."
And going forward, as he tries to stay healthy, Baker recognizes that even the top players will get banged up here and there. The key is staying away from major injuries. "I don't like being the comeback kid every time, but it's kind of been forced on me." Baker is ready to stay the course with his health and instead tell a tale of success.
The Nashville, Tenn., native will next face Bulgarian Grigor DImitrov, who dispatched of Spain’s Nicolas Almagro 7-6(3), 6-4. Should Baker advance past Dimitrov, he could face fourth seed Rafael Nadal.
In other Monday action on the grounds, Samantha Stosur survived the battle of Grand Slam champions with her match against Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 7-5. Wildcard Lauren Davis needed two tiebreaks sets to beat Klara Zakopalova 7-6(3), 7-6(1).
Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens is through to second round after beating qualifier Petra Martic.
On the men’s side, Grigor Dimitrov upset 13th seed Nicolas Almagro, Janko Tipsarevic beat Sam Querrey in three sets, and qualifier Dmitry Tursunov upset Martin Klizan of Slovakia.
In action later in the day, Angelique Kerber, a finalist at this event in 2012, needed three sets to beat Karin Knapp. Venus Williams took out qualifier Jana Cepelova, qualifier Mackenzie McDonald went down to fellow qualifier David Goffin, and James Blake -- in an impressive showing -- upset 16th seed Jerzy Janowicz 6-1, 7-5.