Brian Baker could have packed in tennis before hitting the big time as the years went by and his body required one operation after another. But the American qualifier has breezed through to the last 32 at Wimbledon where an opportunity to reach the second week presents itself today.
A crushing win over experienced Finn Jarkko Nieminen marked the latest step of an incredible comeback for the 27-year-old right-hander from Nashville, Tennessee.
Baker was forced to quit tennis seven years ago to undergo three rounds of hip surgery, treatment on a sports hernia and ligament surgery on his right elbow, seemingly ending a promising career at the age of just 20.
Last summer, Baker – who rebuilt his life by beginning a degree in business and finance and taking up a tennis coaching role at Nashville’s Belmont University – was still playing in the Middle Tennessee Tennis League alongside his father and uncle and had held no world ranking since November 2008. How that has changed.
He was handed a wild card for the French Open last month after winning a tournament in Savannah, and followed it up by reaching the Nice final and the second round at Roland Garros, where he was playing his first grand slam in almost seven years.
Now, his success at Wimbledon, where today he will face France’s world No 55 Benoit Paire, has surprised even Baker. But he never gave up hope that these days would come.
“It was so long ago that I played that everything now is new,” Baker said. “I can sort of think of it as a second career. It’s not like you ever forget how to play tennis but I feel that this is sort of a round two, and I’m hoping that this time it will last a lot longer and I will do a little bit better.
“I think you have to be realistic when you’ve been out that long and you keep on having surgeries that it might not be in the cards to play again but I never totally gave up hope.”
Meanwhile, Serbian Viktor Troicki set up a fourth round meeting with Novak Djokovic. Troicki saw off Argentinian Juan Monaco in straight sets, 7-5, 7-5, 6-3.
French No 18 seed Richard Gasquet overpowered Spain’s Nicolas Almagro to win 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 and will face German Florian Mayer who saw off Poland’s Jerzy Janowicz to claim victory over five sets - 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5.
Janko Tipsarevic was unable to join compatriot Djokovic in the fourth round after he was beaten by Mikhail Youzhny. The eighth seed went two sets down before winning the third, but Russian Youzhny hit back to prevail 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to line up a meeting with Denis Istomin.
Istomin secured his place in the fourth round – the first time an Uzbek player has reached this stage of a grand slam – after he beat Colombian Alejandro Falla. Istomin took a two-set lead before Falla claimed the third, but a fourth set tie-break saw him clinch the 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7/5) win.
Spaniard Fernando Verdasco saw his campaign fall by the wayside after he was beaten by Xavier Malisse in a five-set match, losing 1-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-1, 4-6 6-3.
Also victorious was American Sam Querrey who got the better of Canadian Milos Raonic in a match which was continued from Thursday, winning 6-7 (7/3) 7-6 (9/7) 7-6 (10/8) 6-4.