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By Chris Oddo Photo Credit: Jasper Ruhe / Pro Shots
Kiki Bertens - 2012 Fes(April 30, 2012)—Heroes and Zeros is Tennis Now's weekly look at the brightest stars of the game -- and the biggest flops. This week we'll span the globe, looking back at Stuttgart, Barcelona, Bucharest, and Fes, along with a tip of the cap to Brian Baker and his exploits at the Savannah Challenger.
Hero: Brian Baker
Where to begin? Baker, not exactly a household tennis name--until today--had to endure five surgeries in three years from 2005 to 2008, and during that time his prospects as a touring pro seemed to get slimmer each time he went under the knife. It wasn't exactly what Baker, who was a player on the rise before his body betrayed him, had in mind. "I'm not going to lie," Baker told, "I was pretty disappointed when I had to sit out all that time. It was pretty tough to watch all the guys on TV having tons of success."
But Baker never quit, and even if he was forgotten by most of the tennis world, he kept the candle burning, never fully believing that he was done as a tennis player.
Baker last played a full season in 2005. He ended up notching a top ten win at the US Open that year when he defeated Gaston Gaudio in the first round. Then the injuries started to mount.
In 2007 he played a few challengers, hoping that his body would respond to the rigors of tennis, but it didn't.
There would be more surgeries and more inactivity for Baker, but last year he decided to give it another go, getting his feet wet on the futures circuit once again. "I felt like I had some unfinished business," said Baker. "I always wanted to come back but my body wouldn't allow me to. I started to feel a little bit better last summer, so I told myself to give it a go and see how far I can take it."
After last week's challenger title in Savannah (featuring victories over Michael Russell, Robert Kendrick and Robby Ginepri), it's clear that Baker is taking it pretty far. All the way to Paris, in fact. His challenger results have earned him a wild card into the French Open, a place where he once played the junior finals against Stan Wawrinka.
As much as we tend to measure players by their ranking, their wins and their losses, Baker's effort to get back on the court after so much adversity reminds us that there is more to a player like Baker than any computer ranking could ever tell us.
Baker is all heart and soul, and no matter what becomes of him at the French, his incredible effort just to get there reminds us all of what really matters when it comes to tennis: having the courage to get out there and see how good you really can be.
Zero: Spaniards, When Playing Nadal
It's hard to knock on players for losing to Rafael Nadal, but there is something very frustrating about the way that Rafa's compatriots seem to always sabotage their best efforts when facing him.
I call it the “Rafa Complex.“
Yesterday David Ferrer was doing a fantastic job of sticking with Nadal in the Barcelona final. But as soon as he found himself with an opportunity to take a set from him, he suddenly couldn't put the ball in the court. After five set points had swirled down the drain in the last game of the first set, Ferrer proceeded to play the worst tiebreaker of his career.
If that isn’t the “Rafa Complex,” I don’t know what is.
While you can chalk a lot of it up to the fact that everybody has difficulty beating Nadal, there is an undeniable lack of belief present in players like Ferrer, Verdasco (0-13), Lopez and Almagro (0-7) when they go up against Nadal.
Even when they have him on the ropes they seem to be overwhelmed by the apparition on the other side of the net. They fumble, sneeze, get tight, double fault on set point, etc...
Yesterday was Rafa's 11th win against Spaniards in a final against zero losses. Need I say more?
Hero: Kiki Bertens
Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens came all the way from qualifying to win her maiden title in Morocco this weekend in only the second WTA main draw of her career. The 20-year-old moves inside the top 100 with the win, to a career-best 92.
Zero: Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez
The Spanish duo did great work in taking out three seeded teams en route to the Barcelona final, but all that momentum couldn't keep them from losing their fourth ATP World Tour final in as many tries. Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski took the title in a match tiebreak, 10-8.
Hero: Rafa
Nadal is larger than life: words cannot describe him, numbers cannot define him. But still you have to admit: the numbers are pretty impressive. Nadal became the first man in the Open Era to win two different titles seven or more times when he defeated David Ferrer in the Barcelona final yesterday.
Want some more numbers? How about 77 consecutive match wins in April? Or 34 consecutive wins at Barcelona?
Like it simple? Then go with 21 straight on clay.
Either way you count it up, Nadal is still the King of Clay. You just have to watch him play against the world's top players on the surface to recognize that fact.
Zero: Andrea Petkovic's Luck
Oh, no, not again, is all I can say about Petkovic, who was bitten by the injury bug yet again in Stuttgart (ankle ligaments, three months). I really think she should take a gig as a commentator for this year's Grand Slams. She can stay on site and rehab and keep all of us entertained while making some $$$ in the meantime. And the odds of her getting hurt in the broadcast booth would be much lower than on the court.
Hero: Maria Sharapova
Whether or not Victoria Azarenka's wrist injury had a direct outcome on the result of Sharapova's final in Stuttgart with her is unimportant. What is important is that Sharapova is finding her game on the clay. She took out the last three Grand Slam champions in three days, ending Kvitova's 27-match indoor win streak and ending her own run of four consecutive losses to Azarenka in finals in the process.
This was a huge win for Sharapova. Now that she's gaining confidence on the clay, the plotline for this year's French Open thickens even further.


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