Queen’s 2012: Jamie Baker joins Andy Murray in round two
Jamie Baker beats fellow Brit Oliver Golding to book his place in the second round of the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club
All eyes will be on Andy Murray when he opens his campaign for a third Aegon Championship title at the Queen’s Club this week but, as the tour pays its first annual visit to the UK, he is not alone in flying the home flag.
The first grass tournament of the year awarded four of its five wild cards to fellow Brits who found themselves at the top of the playlist in this rain-stricken corner of London.
For two of them in particular, Queen’s could provide the kind of launch pad that Murray enjoyed back in 2005 when, at 18, he played his first main tour match here and advanced to the third round. That earned him a wild card to his first Wimbledon where he also reached the third round, losing in one of the thrillers of the tournament in five sets to David Nalbandian.
Eighteen-year-old Liam Broady, who reached the finals of the Wimbledon junior singles last year, was playing his own first match at an ATP tour level this week against No14 seed, Gilles Muller. Had he reached the third round, he could even face Murray himself.
But the young Broady, a slender figure who looked, if anything, younger than his years, was never able to compete with the 92-kilo, 6ft 4in frame of the man from Luxembourg. The first set ended with a second break of serve to Muller, 6-2, and the second set shot by even more quickly.
Broady managed to hold serve in the fourth game but, with double faults adding to his problem, the teenager lost the set, 6-1, and left Queen’s after barely 54 minutes of play.
He has a nimble, stylish, left-handed game that, with growth and experience, should find him making more of an impression next year.
And he afterwards acknowledged that he had plenty to learn: “It was a big eye-opener for what I need to improve on. I think you learn from your mistakes and I’ll push on from it.”
At the other end of the draw, Scot Jamie Baker played another 18-year-old, Oliver Golding, in the first match on Court 2. Golding hit British headlines last autumn by winning the US Open junior title, and this was not his first tour match. He lost here last year to the in-form Nicolas Mahut—who incidentally is the first in line for Murray in a tricky opener.
Golding held his own against the older Baker, though he struggled to master the conditions on the greasy outside court. Both men tried to use the slick, low-bouncing grass to throw in some net attacks and there was plenty of slice on show, but neither could make a break-through.
It was Baker who earned the only break points of the first set at 5-4 up, but it progressed to a tie-break, where an increasingly frustrated Golding made a string of errors, and quickly lost the set, 7-1.
He lost focus again—and one of his rackets—in the opening game of the second set, unhappy with an over-rule by the umpire. The calmer Baker broke and quickly ran to a 3-0 lead in the second, closing out the match 6-3. His reward? Well there were a few.
First, he now faces No2 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who, at precisely the time Baker was setting his own date with French destiny, was practising with Murray in the shadow of Centre Court!
“I mean, I think I’ve just got to enjoy the match tomorrow. I have never played somebody ranked as highly as that in a competitive match.”
But there was better news. First, Baker discovered he had a wild card to Wimbledon—“it’s massive”—and second, he jumped into the top 200 for the first time in his career. Both achievements must be seen as particularly special after fighting back from injury and a serious blood disorder that saw him ranked at 400 a year ago.
Baker also discovered, not much later, that he was the sole remaining wild card in the Queen’s draw.
British No2 James Ward, who made a great run to the semis at Queen’s last year, was the first to take to Centre Court this year, and faced a tough test against No9 seed and world No34, Kevin Anderson.
He got off to a great start, too, out-acing the South African in the opening set to take the lead, 6-4.
But in the second set, his first serve level plummeted from 86 to 54 per cent and Anderson turned the tables on the aces front, too, producing seven to Ward’s one. Indeed the No9 seed saved a break back by Ward with three straight winning serves on the trot, and dropped just two points out of 19 on his first deliveries.
The third set continued the reversal of fortune, with Anderson upping his serve level to almost 80 per cent and breaking in the third game. It felt like clear water, and it proved to be just that: a 6-4 set for the match.
Ward was followed onto Centre Court by the only other wild card in the draw, the veteran four-time champion, Lleyton Hewitt. He played Ivo Karlovic who not only beat him as reigning champion at Wimbledon in 2003 but also beat him at Queen’s in 2005. This was to be the same story, a 6-3, 6-2 rout, but despite the disappointment, Hewitt too was buoyed up by news that he had a wild card for Wimbledon.
“Yeah, it’s the best tournament there is… After the surgery, that was obviously my main aim, to try and get back as quickly as possible. But Wimbledon was the focus.”
He still has time to make an impression at Queen’s, though. He will, for the first time, partner fellow former champion Andy Roddick in the doubles.