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Brian Baker: Toeing The Red Line

Baker© Getty ImagesBaker has addressed joint strengthening and flexibility in his 2012 off-season training.

If you’re 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 USTA’s 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 to discuss his off-season training, managing his body, returning to Australia for the first time in seven years and more as part of Compeed’s 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?
I’ve had more than my share of injuries in the past, so there’s 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, I’ll spend a couple hours on the court in the morning, and then the afternoon. Fitness wise, there are rehab exercises that I’ll run through, as well as typical conditioning, trying to get faster and stronger. I’ve 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 I’d like to and be successful out there, but I also know that I can’t take any steps backwards. I want to do everything I can to get fit, but I’m 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 isn’t going to work for me, I’m old enough to tell someone I’m not going to do it, or modify it in a way that I can do it. I’ve been working really hard and I feel like I’ve made a lot of gains, but I’ve 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 don’t 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?
It’s 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. I’m playing two tournaments before the Australian Open, so I should be acclimated to the heat by the time I’m playing in Melbourne. The better shape you’re in, the quicker you’ll 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?
It’s important, but at the same time, you can’t put too much emphasis on it, because it’ll 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 doesn’t pan out for you to play your best tennis. I’m a competitive guy at heart. It’s one of those things where I’m not going to overthink it.

What is an exercise or stretch you’d 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. I’ve 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 think…
Is the most flexible?
Novak Djokovic
Has the best footwork? Rafael Nadal
Has the best balance? Roger Federer
Has the strongest core? Andy Murray
Is the quickest? Novak Djokovic
Has the greatest muscular endurance? David Ferrer

- COMPEED is an official supplier of the ATP.

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