‘I never felt right in the UK – Florida is where I think I’m going to achieve my dream’ – Portsmouth-born tennis player Blu Baker
Portsmouth or Florida? Well, you can't really blame Blu Baker for choosing the American state to undertake his tennis education.
Sunnier climes, sandy beaches and plenty of sights and attractions to see.
Yet, it's been the courts of Gomez Tennis Academy where the former St John's College pupil has spent the majority of his time since swapping Portsmouth for Florida on a permanent basis at the age of 13.
For many teenagers making the move across the pond would be a daunting experience, but it's one Baker would have made sooner given the chance.
His love for the States started at the age of three when trips with his dad Kevin and a group of players from the Portsmouth Tennis Academy to play and train at the Evert Academy began.
Then, when he was 10 and displaying a high level of promise, Blu spent a week at Rene Gomez's Academy to get a taste of how his future might look.
From that point on, he would visit and train out of the Florida base for a longer period on each visit before taking the leap into full-time training at the academy.
Certainly a bold step, but Blu, now 19, believes his choices have given him the best possible chance to make a name for himself in the sport.
He said: 'I never really felt right in the UK. I never felt I would make it there, I didn’t think it was the right place, the right atmosphere or the right people there to get me where I want to be.
‘Not that I’m already there, but I think my best chance is here, this is where I think I’m going to make it.
‘This is the place that I think I’m going to achieve my dream, there was no-one over there (UK) that I feel can push me to that degree.
‘Especially to the point of view of players - there are so many things you can do out here that you can’t do in the UK.
'If you want to be a professional athlete you can’t put 50 per cent in school and 50 per cent in tennis. It’s just not going to happen, it just won’t - that’s my opinion.
‘Not because I know, I don’t know, I’ve taken this route and I’ll guess we’ll find out in the future if it works or not.
‘I’ve given myself the best chance I’ve got, so that’s basically what’s going on.'
Blu, whose mum TJ remains in Florida with him, reached a high of 76 in the world on the ITF juniors circuit. He also featured in the main draw of junior Wimbledon and played in the qualifying events at both the US Open and French Open.
But the Portsmouth-born player, currently ranked 1,653 in the world, insists time on the age group tour of tennis counts for little - it's about making people sit up and take notice on the main stage.
Blu posted his first ATP points by winning a round at a Futures event in Cancun while spending the season travelling with father and coach Kevin in 2019.
His progress has somewhat been halted in the past 12 months, at a key stage in his early career, amid the pandemic.
Travel restrictions and a decimated calendar in 2020 meant he has been restricted to playing UTR (Universal Tennis Rating) events within the United States.
Blu admits it's been hard not being able to do what he loves in competing around the world in a bid to start climbing the ATP rankings - but it just makes him even hungrier to show what he's capable of when Covid-19 restrictions are eased.
‘Juniors is one thing, anyone can be a good junior player, but no-one is going to remember if you were number one in the world in juniors,' he added.
'I want to be remembered in this sport, that’s my goal, that’s what I really want.
‘I want to be remembered as one of the greatest players of all time but that’s a huge, huge, huge goal and it’s a big dream.
‘Anyone can say they want to be the best at something, but do they really, really want it?
‘At the end of the day, people say they want something but they don’t really put in the work to do it.
‘In my opinion, I’m putting in the work, but no-one will know it until it happens.
‘Anyone can talk the talk but unless you’re really doing it then you’ll know.
‘Covid has made it very difficult to travel around and play events.
‘I’ve been mainly stuck here training and playing some UTR events.
‘I haven’t been able to get out there and start competing on Futures and stuff like that.
‘It’s kind of hit me a little bit, it’s kind of upsetting because I love to compete, competing for me is why I play this sport.
‘It’s a one on one gladiator sport, it’s what I want, it’s what I love.
‘Not being able to do that on a regular basis outside of the country is really frustrating.
'Regardless of it being a UTR or not, I love to compete. I’m not thinking of it as a burden, I’m thinking of it as an opportunity to keep playing and not lose what I have right now.'
Blu, whose coaching team consists of Colombian pair Rene Gomez and Juan Mateus along with dad Kevin, acknowledges he might have to be patient before his big 'break' arrives.
But he has taken plenty of inspiration from watching American players he knows from the junior circuit make their rise up the rankings.
Brandon Nakashima, currently world number 133, was someone Blu faced in ITF and grade one junior competitions before he started shooting up the main tour rankings.
And it's proof that anything is possible.
Blu said: 'I know I’m putting the work in, I know it’s going to happen for me sooner or later, it’s just kind of when it’s going to happen.
‘It could be a year, it could be three years or four years, you just don’t know.
‘Sebastian Korda, he was young and he just broke through, broke into the top 100.
‘Brandon Nakishima, the American boy who I was playing ITFs with and the grade ones with in juniors, he just broke through and now he’s in the top 100.
‘Those guys have worked hard and they’re in the spotlight now. Brandon is a young American guy, utter talent, very, very good player.
‘Personally, I think it’s just going to be staying in there (on the tour).
‘Working hard day in, day out, possibly for the next three or four years, until I make my break.
‘That is what I think is going to be the main thing for me.'
What about Portsmouth? Is there anything the teenager particularly misses about his home city?
‘I used to come back way more often then now,' said Blu.
‘I always come back to Portsmouth if I go to the UK - unless it’s for Wimbledon - I usually just stay and train where dad is.
‘I do miss that a little bit (his dad’s Portsmouth Tennis Academy).
‘I miss the tennis centre, I miss dad and I miss family.
‘I love going back to the tennis centre, helping the kids and helping out.
'Portsmouth FC is my number one, they’re my go to, to me they’ve always been my number one team.
‘Honestly, I love the football club.'