Passion for the Game: An Interview with Brian Baker
This young up-and-coming tennis player from Nashville, Tennessee, has the determination, drive, confidence, and natural ability to make it in the pros. On the junior circuit, he was ranked as high as the number two player in the world. In 2005, two years after turning pro, he beat the ninth seed at the U.S. Open.
What’s it like to be a professional athlete at the age of 20? What are the ups and downs of the tour?
“I’m having pretty much the time of my life.” It’s great to do something I love for a living. Also, I get to travel; I see countries I wouldn’t see otherwise. The ups are playing well, moving up in the rankings, and getting good exposure. One of the downs is that a good run can change pretty quickly, and sometimes it’s a challenge to keep my losses in perspective.
When did you decide to become a professional tennis player?
By the time I was 15, I knew I wanted to give tennis a shot. I had a gift for the game. I’d won nationals for my age group; and when I started playing international events, I did well. My family supported me and encouraged me to do my best. I wanted to see how good I could get.
How do you deal with the stress of the tour? find time for family and friends? make time for God?
It’s important to have a set playing schedule so that I don’t get too tired, mentally or physically. It definitely helps to have interests outside of tennis, but it’s tough being on the road so much. Keeping in touch with my family isn’t that difficult, thanks to cell phones. Friendships are a challenge though. I didn’t form a lot of close friendships at home because I was always traveling, so most of my friends are other tennis players. Making time for God is an even bigger challenge. Because the tour schedule is so demanding, I am rarely able to go to church while I’m on the road; but I try to be a moral person and stay in contact with God through my everyday life.
You must have a lot of determination. What drives you to do your best?
“For any athlete to be good at his or her sport, he or she must have desire and motivation; that’s what fuels the passion. If you don’t have passion and motivation, it doesn’t matter how talented you are; . . . you’re not going to do your best.” I’m a very competitive person, wanting to win at everything. I don’t like to lose. Whatever you do, “you’ve got to have a winning philosophy.”
How do you prepare mentally for a match? What keeps you focused on the court?
I think the biggest thing is sticking to a routine with which you feel comfortable, but there is a fine line between routine and superstition. I think I have a little bit of both. Before a match, I play out points in my head and try to get into a focused state of mind. At other times, I put on my ipod and listen to tunes.
It can be hard to keep your focus when you’re way up because you don’t have to play as hard. But I normally don’t have that I problem; I try to beat my opponent by as much as I can. If I’m down, the main thing that keeps me focused is not wanting to lose.
What advice would you give to young people who are struggling to follow their dreams?
Take care of things you can control. With motivation, desire, and hard work, the results will come. You have to be able to handle losing because it’s going to happen. Don’t doubt yourself but learn from your losses. Never lose confidence.
Read 2 Timothy 1:7. Brian says, “If you don’t have passion and motivation; . . . you’re not going to do your best.” How passionate and motivated are you about your faith? How can you develop a “winning philosophy” about the way you live out your faith? How have you learned to handle setbacks or failure without losing confidence?
—from devozine (March/April 2006). Copyright © 2006 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.