LONDON (Reuters) - Bionic Brian Baker might be an appropriate tag for the 27-year-old American with as many operations as singles victories at a grand slam tournament.
Bidding to become the third American qualifier to reach the quarter-finals after John McEnroe and Paul Annacone, Baker was set to meet German 27th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber on Court 12 on Monday, weather permitting.
That is the statistic. The hard facts are that it has been a long and tough road for the right-hander from Nashville who looked set for a brilliant career after being ranked as world junior number two in 2003.
“After I came up (Baker) was probably the best junior I’d seen. I felt like he was going to kind of be that guy to keep me company for a little while. He had the tools,” fellow American Andy Roddick said.
Instead, Baker suffered one interruption after another for surgery between 2005 and 2008, losing momentum in his bid to emerge from the challenger circuit.
He has had surgery five times, on his hips, a hernia and his right elbow, the last in 2008 taking three years for a full recovery.
From this modest position it has been a steady, uphill climb in the last 13 months having made his comeback as an unranked player in June 2011.
“Everyone loves a comeback story,” Roddick, three-times a runner-up at Wimbledon, told reporters after his third-round defeat on Saturday.
“You think of people who are off for six months and it’s tough to come back. Hell, six years, I can’t imagine that.”
Baker reached his first ATP Tour final at Nice in May as a qualifier, losing to Spaniard Nicolas Almagro having eliminated then 13-ranked Gael Monfils in the round of 16 and Nikolay Davydenko in the semi-finals.
American number 10 seed Mardy Fish, who will meet Baker in the quarter-finals if they both get through the fourth round, said: “He just fell off the map... People will forget about you really quickly... (but) here he is again and it’s a great story.”
Baker’s first victory at a grand slam was his upset of Argentine Gaston Gaudio, the 2004 French Open champion, as a wildcard in the first round of the U.S. Open in 2005.
What could have given him the confidence to move on to bigger things was dashed by the need for surgery on his left hip less than three months later.
In 2006, he needed another operation on a hernia and in 2008 he went under the knife three times for both hips and his right elbow.
Baker said that was probably the lowest point in his life.
“I think anytime you have surgery, sitting in the operating room, sitting in rehab, it’s not going perfectly to plan. For me I kept on having surgeries,” he said after his third round win over Frenchman Benoit Paire.
“At one point you’re like,‘Why is my body not cooperating? Am I ever going to get out to play?’ I think that happened around the same time as the elbow surgery.”
Xavier Malisse has inadvertently played a telling part in Baker’s as yet brief grand slam experience.
Baker lost to the Belgian in the second round of the 2005 U.S. Open and the next time he stepped on to a grand slam court for a singles match it was nearly seven years later at Roland Garros where he beat Malisse.
He next played his first ever five-setter, losing to Gilles Simon in the second round, another step in rebuilding his career and the stepping stone to his remarkable run at Wimbledon.
Baker said that just being older and wiser helped make up for a lack of experience on court
“Even though I haven’t had the experience over the last five or six years because I haven’t played, just being a little older, a little more mature (helps). I mean, I know things aren’t going to go my way the whole match. You have to be able to handle some adversity,” he said.
“I missed a few shots at the end (on Saturday) that I probably wouldn’t miss if it was the quarters of a challenger and not trying to get to the round of 16 at Wimbledon.”