WIMBLEDON, England – Sure, there were plenty of low points along the way back to tennis' biggest stages for Brian Baker. None worse, perhaps, than waiting to have reconstructive surgery on his right elbow in February 2008.
"I knew it would be a year and a half before I got back. It actually took longer than that," Baker said. "Sitting in the operating room, I told myself I'm not going to keep on coming back, having surgery, prolong my 'career,' if I can call it that."
He can now. Baker, a 27-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., did come back — and he's in the third round at Wimbledon, his best showing at any Grand Slam tournament.
After missing majors for 6½ years because of a series of operations, Baker returned to Grand Slam action last month by earning a wild card into the French Open, where he won one match. The 126th-ranked Baker followed that up by qualifying for Wimbledon, then winning two straight-set matches, including a 6-0, 6-2, 6-4 victory over 44th-ranked Jarkko Nieminen of Finland on Thursday.
"I was definitely not expecting to get through so easily," Baker said.
His comeback keeps getting better.
Baker was an up-and-comer who reached the French Open junior final as a teenager in 2003. But a couple of months after playing in the 2005 U.S. Open, Baker needed left hip surgery. That began a stretch of about 5½ years in which he played in two low-tier tournaments — and had five operations. That list includes a second left hip procedure, another on his right hip, a sports hernia repair, and the right elbow operation that's increasingly common among baseball pitchers and is known as Tommy John surgery.
That one required about three years for a full recovery.
While forced off the tour, Baker took classes and coached tennis at Belmont University in Nashville. All the while, he kept tabs on the up-and-coming players he'd faced as a kid, players who were around his age or a little younger, such as current No. 1 Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Djokovic owns five major titles so far; the other three all have been a runner-up at a Grand Slam tournament.
Seeing them do as well as they did wasn't depressing so much as motivating.
"It was like, 'These guys are doing really well; whenever I get back, hopefully I can do the same thing,'" Baker said.
As he met with reporters Thursday, Baker had plastic bags of ice resting on his right shoulder and left wrist — but only as a precaution.
"I feel the effects of the matches on my body, that's for sure, but there's nothing going on that is keeping me from being able to prepare and play good tennis. Yeah, I have to spend some time getting treatment after matches and even if it's not really bothering me that much, I'm still going to address it and make sure it doesn't turn into something else," Baker explained.
"I have been away from the game too long to try to have anything else keep me away," he added. "I am taking precautions and so far, it's been good."
AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas contributed to this report.
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich