Baker's hot run rising to the occasion as Wimbledon last 16 fairytale continues
20:24 GMT, 30 June 2012
Comeback story of the championships must surely belong to Brian Baker, a 27-year-old American who started the year ranked 458th in the world.
The former world No 2 junior spent six years battling against injury, during which time he underwent five operations – three hip, one elbow and one hernia – and his career looked over.
Wonderful week: Baker
He went into coaching, rebuilt his
life by taking a degree in business and finance and, 12 months ago, was
playing low-level tennis alongside his father and uncle in the Middle
Tennessee Tennis League.
But, as his physical condition improved, Baker decided to give the circuit a second try.
He won a tournament in Savannah,
Georgia, followed up by reaching a final in Nice and was given a wild
card into the French Open – his first Grand Slam for seven years – where
he reached the second round.
In England, he came through the
qualifying and followed up with three victories in the main draw to go
through to the second week.
After seeing off Frenchman Benoit
Paire 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 on Saturday to move into the fourth round, he
said: 'I think of this as a second career – but I never totally gave
Fortunately his family have already extended their stay in London to include Monday, when he will face 27th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber for a place in the quarter-finals.
Into the second week: Baker will play Phillip Kohlschreiber in the last 16
'I think they had to change their flights twice, they weren't that confident in me starting out,' said Baker, smiling.
'I was just excited that they were
able to come back over. They came over for the French Open, so it's nice
to see my dad was able to take time off work again.
'It makes it a lot more special to be
able to share it with my family and girlfriend than it is if you're just
doing it on your own.'
Baker's comeback began on the golf course last summer.
That was when the Nashville resident
found out he had been given a wild card into a Futures tournament in
Pittsburgh, only his third event since 2005. Not only did he qualify, he
won the tournament.
Racket head: Benoit Paire returns a shot during his third round match
The former French Open boys' finalist
has said repeatedly that he never doubted his ability, and he really
came back onto the radar when he won a Challenger tournament in April
that earned him a wild card into the French Open.
A week before Roland Garros he
qualified for his first ATP World Tour event in almost seven years, in
Nice, and then beat the likes of Gael Monfils and Nikolay Davydenko to
reach the final.
French farce: It's behind you, Benoit!
There were calls for Baker to be given
a wild card for Wimbledon, but now he is through to the last 16, the
American is grateful that did not happen.
He said: 'I wasn't that disappointed
that I didn't get one. I needed the match practice on the courts. My
only grass-court match was at Queen's qualifying and I lost. I didn't
feel I was comfortable on the stuff.
'There's actually two grass courts at
the club where I grew up at back in Nashville. I think I once played
hit-and-giggle tennis on that. I played a pro-am doubles tournament up
in the Hamptons with a buddy from Nashville on grass.
Serving for the match: Brian Baker
'But those courts are nothing compared to these. They're a lot softer. It had been seven years since I played on a similar style grass court.'
Baker's victory, over an opponent who badly lost his cool in the third and fourth sets, ensures he will break into the top 100 for the first time in his career.
Asked if he still has to pinch himself, Baker said: 'I'm sure I will. It's been unreal. When I'm on the court I know I definitely have nerves. Closing out the match you definitely know what's on the table, what you can accomplish.
'I missed a few shots at the end 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.
'It is crazy, what's going on. But I'm still trying to stay focused on the task at hand and not get too wrapped up in it.
'Because once you do that, I think it's tough to be able to play your best tennis once you're happy that you've been there.
'So I'm trying every match to go in there hungry and try to win the next one instead of thinking, “I'm in the round of 16 of Wimbledon, this is awesome”.'