In January, Carson Baker proved to be in the mix for the best 14-year-old tennis player in the country when he teamed up with Lucas Coriaty of California to win the USTA boys’ 14 Winter Nationals doubles crown in Tucson, Arizona.
In February, Baker moved to the top of the rankings chart when he earned the No. 1 spot in boys’ 14 in both singles and doubles competition.
And then, the world, and life as we know it, changed when we came to grips with the coronavirus pandemics. Businesses closed. Classes were canceled, and the sports schedules were wiped clean.
What’s the top player in the county to do when there’s not even a tennis court available to amp up your game?
If you are Baker, you “practice” in the hallways of your home and in the streets of your neighborhood until you find a court that is available.
And you appreciate that your parents already had a program in place that made dealing with the threat of the pandemic somewhat easier.
Baker’s mother, Liz, enrolled her son for online classes three years ago because time and schedules are important when you are bidding to be the best of the best in the world. And it certainly helped that Baker’s father, Mike, is his private coach. That allowed practice at the time when small groups were limited to three people because of the pandemic.
The third person in the group? That’s 11-year-old daughter, Kayla. She was ready to debut at the national level, but the pandemic has put her season on hold as well.
“At first, we thought it would be a month,” Liz Baker said when word of the pandemic became news. “At the beginning, we had to learn the severity of it, and how easily it could be spread. We told our kids they had to be careful. No exceptions.”
Baker knows of the pandemic. And she knows the cost as well. It can attack your body. But she points out it can also cause feelings of anxiety, depression and isolation.
Her thoughts and concerns are with her father-in-law, who is in a nursing home. Baker’s parents live on Daniel Island, and in the beginning, she did not visit her parents because of fear of spreading the virus.
And then there is the avocation of parenthood.
“As a parent, you just try to do the best,” Baker said.
And that includes trying to make life as normal as possible for your children. And in this household, that’s a lot of tennis.
Carson was scheduled to play in a national tourney at Indian Wells, California, but it was canceled soon after the virus hit. Another national event, clay court championships in Fort Lauderdale, was canceled as well.
Mike, the father and coach, stressed to Carson that pursuing a tennis career, one that includes stops at both the college and professional level, is a marathon. He also pointed out that much of the game is having the proper mental approach. Carson now is able to refine his game on the court, but is still waiting to face live competition.
Carson plays for the Philip Simmons High School team. But he’s at a whole different level than that. He is elite, and with it comes lofty goals. The rising sophomore would like to play at Clemson just like dad did. And then it’s on to the iconic tennis venues around the world, playing on the ATP Tour.
That’s like the days before 2020 arrived.
“It hits at all levels,” Liz Baker said. “You have to be healthy and you have to know the health of everyone in your personal circle. You have to take precautions. But I’m just as concerned if we don’t get back to a normal life. It’s a lot more stressful right now, and you worry about depression. I’m just as concerned about the ripple effect.”