Originally posted on FOX Sports  |  Last updated 5/28/12
Americans dominated the late evening drama Monday at Roland Garros. Ryan Harrison spent 2 hours, 40 minutes getting acquainted with the very special atmosphere of the Philippe Chatrier Center Court by the time Gilles Simon recovered from a shaky start to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-1 in the first round of the French Open. But there was still action out on Court Six, and the incredible saga of wild card Brian Baker continued. And just got better. Baker, who has re-emerged on the circuit after a career blighted by five separate surgeries, defeated the Belgian veteran Xavier Malisse 6-3, 7-6, 7-6 with the cool aplomb of a man who has been doing this sort of thing all his career. But he hasn't. Because his body wouldn't let him. The 27-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., played his first Grand Slam at the US Open in 2003 and, before this week, his last in 2005. Then a series of injuries struck, and he was lurching from one operation to the next with frequent breakdowns. He began this year with a ranking of 458, which he improved to a high of 216 when he arrived in Paris. The jump was expedited by his shocking appearance in the final of ATP event in Nice last week. He lost to Nicolas Almagro after beating former top-10 player Nikolay Davydenko in the previous round. Baker earned his ticket to Roland Garros by winning a Challenge event last month in Savannah, Ga., to gain a USTA wild-card berth. Hitting the ball cleanly from the back court Monday, Baker swept through the second-set breaker with two aces and two great forehand winners. He then let a lead slip in the third. "I've played a lot of matches recently and I just lost my focus a bit," he said afterward. "But I knew I just had to keep going." And keep going he did. Moving ahead 3-1 in the second tiebreaker, he produced a terrific backhand winner down the line to lead 4-2. But Malisse, chasing everything, fought back to 4-4 and might have edged ahead if Baker had not come up with a reflex volley from the baseline, of all places, as he dealt instinctively with Malisse's hard-hit, deep return. Another big service return took him to match point on his serve. And when the Belgian netted, the fairy tale continued. Baker's next opponent? Simon. "I think I can expect a long match," Baker said with a smile. Harrison appears to be a very assured 20-year-old, and there was no sign of the young man from Louisiana being awed by the occasion. He out maneuvered Gilles, the 12th-ranked player in the world, to such an extent that he found himself standing on the threshold of a 2-0 lead in sets when he had two set points at the end of the second. Simon took him out of the play on the first. But on the second, Harrison drew his man right into net. As Simon shoveled back a desperate return, Harrison had a decision to make: Pass or lob? It looked as if he was halfway through his stroke by the time he decided to lob, and the result was a complete mis-hit. Chance gone. Match gone. Harrison received a conduct warning for twiddling his racket and letting it fly out of hand behind him -- a piece of dangerous carelessness because it could have caught a ball boy in the face. No harm was done, but Harrison must learn to put these impetuous reactions to adversity behind him. Having missed his chance, he soon lost his grip on the match. Despite showing plenty of fight, he was never able to reclaim his early dominance. Simon, elegant and light-footed as ever, glided to a deserving victory.
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