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Al Baker - Central Divisional Sales Manager

Al Baker is not only Amy’s Central Divisional Sales Manager, he is an accomplished tennis player. This year Al and his daughter are the Father Daughter Clay Court Champions! Here's their story:

Amy's Kitchen - Al BakerThe easy banter and jovial volleying immediately evident between Al and Marianne Baker indicates a comfortable rapport that is often atypical of a dad and his 20-something year-old daughter. Not surprisingly, this twosome is anything but typical – giving new meaning to a successful father-daughter connection. Longtime
tennis players, the pair was honored with a national #1 ranking based on annual cumulative points in the senior division (father over 60 years) after winning the Father- Daughter National Clay Court Championship in Jupiter, FL in November 2010. While Al may be head of the household, it is Marianne who takes charge on the court, strategizing each point and creating the momentum to win the match.

Marianne’s tennis acumen comes quite naturally. Her mother Norma is a tennis pro at the Aspen Hill Racquet Club and her father has been a USTA/MCTA league player for many years. When other infants were learning to crawl, Norma began developing her daughter’s hand-eye coordination at six months. By age two, Marianne was batting balloons and shortly thereafter picked up her first racket and began hitting tennis balls by age three. At four, she was returning balls from the baseline; at seven she was playing singles against 12-year-olds; and at 10 years, she could hold her own with men her father’s age. That year was also the first time that Al and Marianne played in a

Father-Daughter event. The key to Marianne’s love of tennis, according to Norma, is that she and Al never emphasized winning, just improving her skills. “Our message has always been to find passion, fun, and excitement in everyday life and on the court. Tennis has been a family affair, enabling us to spend quality time together, enjoying one another’s company.”
Marianne went on to play for the University of Maryland where she received a full tennis scholarship and was a stand-out singles and doubles player. During Marianne’s college tenure, Al sat on the sidelines watching his daughter compete on the college circuit at Duke, NC State, and Kentucky among other schools. Although Marianne never missed a college match, those years took their toll on her energy and body and may have prevented a better outcome when she joined the pro tour in 2009. After one year of unrelenting travel and loneliness on the circuit, Marianne gave up her professional aspirations and returned home but never with the intention of giving up the sport that she has continued to love.

While Marianne was transitioning from college to pro tennis and back home again, Al had his own obstacles to overcome. In 2005 he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had to undergo extensive chemotherapy and radiation. For more than a year he couldn’t pick up a racket but when he finally felt well enough to play again, it was with a renewed focus and a level of play that was better than ever. Unlike Marianne, who was practically born with a tennis racket in her hand, Al didn’t take up the sport until he was 30, though years of handball and racquet ball honed the skills necessary to be competitive on the tennis court. His years of athleticism also provided the stamina and mental fortitude to fight and win the biggest battle of his life – beating cancer. And 2010 has proved a banner year. Not only has Al been cancer free for five years, he and Marianne are now the national champs. Playing with her dad is definitely special, according to Marianne who said that “being #1 in the nation only strengthens the bond.”

In the two years since starting to play National Father-Daughter events, the twosome has accumulated a wall of awards and a collage of pictures that are a testament to a remarkable partnership. Al feels lucky to have his health and a remarkably supportive family. “Playing tennis with Marianne and being ranked # 1 is an added bonus and the icing on the cake.” And as they look ahead to national championships in 2011 and beyond, they won’t lose sight of their most important victory due to their resilience as a family off the court – finding strength to bounce back and overpower their toughest opponent, against all odds.

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