Brian Baker: Toeing The Red Line
If youíre a true tennis fan, you know this story by now.
Brian Baker provided one of the most inspiring sport narratives of the year. After returning to the courts in 2011 following five different surgeries and nearly six years removed from playing for a living, Baker made waves in 2012, winning the USTAís Roland Garros wild card in April, reaching his first ATP World Tour final in Nice, advancing to the fourth round of Wimbledon and ascending as high as No. 52 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings.
As he looks to follow up on his success next year, the 27-year-old Baker spoke with ATPWorldTour.com to discuss his off-season training, managing his body, returning to Australia for the first time in seven years and more as part of Compeedís Form & Fitness series...
When did your off-season begin, where are you training, and who are you working with?
I finished up the season after Basel in October. I came home to Nashville for a couple weeks. Then I trained in Jacksonville with Todd Martin for a bit and also in Tampa at Saddlebrook.
What areas of fitness have you targeted to improve?
Iíve had more than my share of injuries in the past, so thereís a lot I can work on. But the main thing is getting strength in and around my joints, especially my hip, which I had problems with. And also flexibility, because I think that was one of the reasons I had problems in the past.
Typically, Iíll spend a couple hours on the court in the morning, and then the afternoon. Fitness wise, there are rehab exercises that Iíll run through, as well as typical conditioning, trying to get faster and stronger. Iíve been doing a balance of things. Some weeks, I was working more on weight training and others, it was strictly fitness.
With your previous misfortunes, how cautious have you been in pushing the envelope during your preparation for the 2013 season?
I definitely have to keep it in mind. The biggest thing for me is toeing the red line. I know that I need to be as fit as I possibly can be to play the way Iíd like to and be successful out there, but I also know that I canít take any steps backwards. I want to do everything I can to get fit, but Iím not going to sacrifice getting hurt in the weight room or on the field during exercises.
I know my body now, so if things are starting to bother me, or I know an exercise isnít going to work for me, Iím old enough to tell someone Iím not going to do it, or modify it in a way that I can do it. Iíve been working really hard and I feel like Iíve made a lot of gains, but Iíve also had to adjust a few things.
You managed to play in 25 tournaments, at all levels, this year. How would you assess the way your body held up? Did it meet or surpass your initial expectations?
Right when I began the comeback, my expectations were pretty low, so if we start there, I surpassed it. Once I got started throughout the year and was playing several matches and tournaments, I think I realised my body could take it.
At the end of the year, I was a little worn down both physically and mentally, but I was able to escape any major problems and like you said, played 25 tournaments. I definitely matched my expectations, but I donít know if I surpassed them once I got playing again and was feeling pretty good.
Australia is known for having sweltering conditions. As you look to make your first trip Down Under as a professional since 2005, what can you as a player do to be prepared for the heat?
Itís tough, because even when I was training in Florida, the hottest temperature was in the low 80s and I know it can get warmer in Australia. Iím playing two tournaments before the Australian Open, so I should be acclimated to the heat by the time Iím playing in Melbourne. The better shape youíre in, the quicker youíll acclimate yourself to the harsher conditions. All you can do is train in warm weather as much as you can and be in the best physical shape possible, so it will be less of a shock to your body.
How imperative is it to put together a string of results the first three months of the season, knowing you have an opportunity to boost your ranking?
Itís important, but at the same time, you canít put too much emphasis on it, because itíll probably tighten you up and not play as free. I think last year, when I started making my run, I had some nerves, but I was motivated and excited to play. I was having fun out there. Once you start putting expectations on a weekly basis, it doesnít pan out for you to play your best tennis. Iím a competitive guy at heart. Itís one of those things where Iím not going to overthink it.
What is an exercise or stretch youíd recommend a recreational player add into their training program?
Before you play, use Therabands to go through a series of rotator cuff strengthening exercises. It takes three to five minutes. Iíve also used the sleeper stretch. I had some issues last year with the back of my shoulder, so this was an easy exercise to help get rid of the problem.
Which player on tour do you thinkÖ
Is the most flexible?
Has the best footwork?
Has the best balance?
Has the strongest core?
Is the quickest?
Has the greatest muscular endurance?