Jamie Baker became the British No 2 this week but has hardly been in the mood to celebrate. The 21-year-old Glaswegian is facing a long spell on the sidelines after going down with a virus that attacked his blood system and could even have proved fatal.
Baker was practising at his Florida training camp four weeks ago when he noticed bruising on his arms, a rash on his shoulder and blood on his handkerchief after he blew his nose. His practice partner’s mother, a nurse, advised him to go to hospital and after tests he was admitted to intensive care.
Further tests revealed that he was suffering either from a virus called ITP (idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura) or a post-viral condition with similar effects. ITP causes the spleen to destroy platelets in the blood. Platelets are fragments of bone marrow cells that help blood to clot and when levels are low it can be difficult to stop bleeding. In extreme cases a lack of platelets can be fatal.
The tests on Baker showed that his levels were “catastrophically low” and he was told that he could have bled to death from even a minor cut or bump. He was put on a course of medication, based on steroids, and returned to Britain nine days later after being released from hospital.
Baker, who said he felt perfectly healthy throughout the whole episode, is now under the care of a specialist in Glasgow, although he has returned to his Loughborough training base. His levels of medication have subsequently been cut by half, but he has been advised to take gentle exercise only every other day.
He expects to be able to increase his physical work in the coming weeks, but a return to competition before the end of the summer seems unlikely. Only when the exact cause of his problem is identified will he be able to plan a full recovery programme.
The medical problems have coincided with Baker’s climb to his highest position in the British rankings, in second place behind Andy Murray. Alex Bogdanovic, the previous No 2, has been in poor form of late and has dropped from a career-high No 108 in the world rankings last June to No 258 after a bad run of results.
Baker is currently ranked at No 241, though he has dropped from his career-high ranking of No 211 five months ago. He has won two Futures tournaments this year and in January qualified for the Australian Open, where he was far from disgraced in losing in four sets to Ivo Karlovic in the first round. He also performed well in Britain’s Davis Cup tie against Argentina in February, beating Agustin Calleri, the world No 41, in a dead rubber.
John Lloyd, Britain’s Davis Cup captain, has been a big supporter of Baker, who has impressed him with his dedication and hard work. Lloyd will be desperate to have the Scot available for the World Group play-off against Austria in September. If Baker was unable to play and Bogdanovic was continuing to struggle, the captain would be forced to consider the likes of Josh Goodall, the current world No 269, and Richard Bloomfield, the No 374, as a second singles player alongside Murray, assuming the British No 1 is fit to play.
Murray, speaking after his defeat by Novak Djokovic at the Monte-Carlo Masters yesterday, said he had not been in contact with Baker, his fellow countryman, but added: “I don't know the ins-and-outs of it, but he’s obviously had a very bad illness. Hopefully he'll be fit and healthy again soon.”