WIMBLEDON, England – Brian Baker's career renaissance is headed for the fourth round at Wimbledon, with the American qualifier extending his remarkable comeback after a half-dozen years away by beating Benoit Paire of France 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 on Saturday.
The 126th-ranked Baker needed five operations from 2005-08, including reconstructive surgery on his right elbow, and returned to the sport about a year ago. He began 2012 ranked 458th, but Saturday's victory is expected to move him into the top 80.
"It's been unreal," Baker said. "It's crazy kind of what's going on. But I'm still trying to stay focused on the task at hand and not get too wrapped around."
The ordeal he's been through is helping him remain grounded and focused.
"I've always been confident in my game. I always knew I was a good player," Baker said. "It was just whether the body would cooperate and whether I could get more than even six, eight, 12 months healthy and able to play."
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. His 2008 elbow surgery required about three years for a full recovery.
"At one point you're like, 'Why is my body not cooperating? Am I ever going to get out to play?'" Baker said.
The 27-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., did return. He played in several clay-court tournaments in the U.S. this year to earn a wild card for the French Open earlier this month — his first major tournament in 6 1/2 years. He lost to 13th-ranked Gilles Simon in the second round.
It was the clay-court performance in the Nice tournament that boosted Baker's confidence after he reached his first career ATP final.
Wimbledon is Baker's first major grass-court tournament in seven years. He had to go through qualifying just to get into the main draw, before beating Rui Machado and Jarkko Nieminen in his first two matches.
While the surface wasn't a problem during Saturday's match against the 55th-ranked Paire, the wind did cause some difficulties.
"It was really blustery out there," Baker said. "Never felt like the wind was even in the same direction every game."
Baker controlled his emotions a bit better than Paire, as the temperamental Frenchmen had a number of tantrums on the court during the two-hour match.
When the American broke his opponent early in the third set to pull ahead 4-1, Paire slammed his racket against his bag, threw a water bottle around, and bit his towel in anger.
"He was a little over there. You could tell that some games it looked like he would take off a little bit, but then he would come up and slap a couple winners, too," Baker said.
Baker will next play 27th-seeded Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany, who beat Lukas Rosol of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-3, 7-6 (6) on Saturday. Rosol stunned Rafael Nadal in the previous round to make Baker's side of the draw a bit easier, but the American still expects a tough challenge.
"I'm sure I'll probably be the underdog again going into the match," Baker said. "I'm kind of happy being the hunter going in there. I know I'll have to play my best match to win because he's a great player."