You regularly hear about successful comebacks. Maria Sharapova’s French Open win after career-threatening shoulder surgery, Serena Williams back in the top 10 after being hospitalised with blood clots on her lungs and Kim Clijsters returning to win three majors as a mother.
While those are fabulous achievements, any player would be hard-pressed to match the fairytale story of Brian Baker, a 27-year-old American who had all but given up on his professional career after five bouts of surgery and barely playing for six years.
The player that had promised so much as a junior and in his first spell on the Tour – most notable for his defeat of No.9 seed Gaston Gaudio at the 2005 US Open – was in full swing today on Court 16 as he dismantled 96th-ranked Rui Machado 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-0.
Simply being at the All England Club is an achievement for the Nashville native, who endured three hip operations, plus surgeries on an elbow and a hernia, before taking the first steps toward a fully-fledged comeback in mid 2011.
Baker admitted that around the time of his elbow surgery he had doubts about his ability to return to the sport.
“The worst moment was probably sitting in the operating room before my elbow surgery because I’d already had all the hip surgeries and I knew that this one was going to be the longest recovery,’’ Baker said. ''I told myself that I’m not going to keep having surgeries to prolong my career.''
Thankfully he hasn’t had to. His arrival in the main draw this year came after three wins in qualifying, continuing a stellar run in 2012 that has seen him go 39-10 and shave his ranking from No.456 to No.126.
A glance quickly revealed that Baker’s game was far better suited to grass than his Portuguese opponent. He hugged the baseline, took the ball early and sent flat, aggressive drives to Machado, who had set up camp against the back fence to pound his heavy top-spin forehand.
Despite their different styles the opening set was even, with both striking winners and holding serve until a tie-break.
After Baker struck a crisp backhand return winner for an immediate mini-break, Machado collapsed in a bundle of errors to gift the American four consecutive set points. Baker required just one to establish a one-set lead. Baker continued where he left off in the tie-break, breaking early to lead 2-1. It all became a bit much for Machado, his frustration boiling over after Baker won a point with a deep drive very close to the baseline, but there is no Hawkeye on the outside courts.
Although displaying a few signs of tension late in the second set – he played a bad game when serving for it at 5-2 – Baker regrouped to close it out on his next service game.
The two-set buffer appeared to much for Machado. He capitulated in the third, his serve deserting him – he finished with 11 double faults – and was broken three times. Meanwhile, Baker stayed true to his aggressive game, striking a backhand winner to take a 5-0 lead and comfortably serving out.
His reward for the one-hour-and-54-minute victory is a second-round match against Finn Jarkko Nieminen.
“I’d be lying if I sat here and said I expected all this success to happen right now when I was going through all those surgeries,” Baker added. “But I never gave up hope that I would be able to come back, and I was always confident in my abilities that if I was able to stay healthy that I would have success.”