By Kelyn Soong, special to EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The stadium court crowd at the Citi Open became increasingly boisterous as Brian Baker, whose comeback story has captivated tennis fans all year, fought to survive in the third set.
The crowd support, however, was not enough for Baker, 27, to pull through with a victory.
After easing through the first set 6-4, Baker dropped the last two sets 6-3, 6-4, to his lower ranked opponent, Florent Serra, who qualified late Sunday for the 32-player event.
"All summer I’ve played clean matches, [where I’ve] still been able to be aggressive at times where I should, but today was definitely not my day," he said.
Baker, ranked world No. 78, has hit a dry spell since qualifying for the main draw and reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon, having lost in the first round at all three tournaments he has entered so far this summer – Atlanta, Los Angeles and now Washington, D.C.
Baker, who was forced to take six years off from tennis due to a series of surgeries, did not blame the loss on his physical health.
"Fitness-wise, I was fine today. It wasn’t an issue," he said. "I definitely took some time off after Wimbledon, had some aches and pains. But it hasn’t been a physical aspect of it, just been maybe more the mental aspect coming back after such a high, and then starting over."
Not playing qualifying rounds has also been an issue for Baker, who has played well when having to qualify for events.
"If you get through qualies and your body holds up and you haven’t had grueling matches in qualies, I think it helps just because you’ve already played competitive matches on the courts, and you’re used to the surroundings a bit more," Baker said. "But it’s not something I want to do just to get matches."
Baker has not played a full tournament schedule since 2005 and began the year ranked outside the top 450.
He was awarded a wild card to the French Open – where he reached the second round – based on his performance on the USTA Pro Circuit, and took the momentum into the grass court season, culminating in a career-high ranking of world No. 76 earlier this summer.
The success, however, has not meant complacency for Baker.
"I’ve missed six years of my career, I’ve had enough time off," he said. "I’m still definitely hungry and still think I have a lot to prove."
A native of Nashville, Tenn., Baker had a few familiar faces in the crowd supporting him.
"I’ve always enjoyed coming [to Washington, D.C.]," Baker said. "The crowds have always been favorable for me. My sister just lives halfway between here and Baltimore so it’s nice to have her be able to come down. I have some cousins here as well. I always enjoy coming to this tournament. I haven’t always played my best here, but I hope that changes in the future."
Baker, who is traveling part time with Jim Madrigal, the head tennis coach at Belmont University, will take the next week off before resuming his comeback tour in Cincinnati, Winston-Salem and then the US Open.