Brian Baker’s sensational spell on the SW19 lawns may have been brought to a halt by No.27 seed Philipp Kohlschreiber's 6-1, 7-6(4), 6-3 victory, but the American qualifier can take solace in the fact that he leaves The Championships hovering around the world No.77 mark – not bad for a player who was out of action for almost six years due to injury and who began the year ranked No.458.
“It’s been an unbelievable run. I can’t be too upset," Baker said after the match.
The 27-year-old emerged at the press conference with an ice pack strapped to his wrist – a precautionary measure – but a reminder all the same of the incredible journey he has navigated to reach this stage.
As one of the world’s top juniors, winning six singles titles and three doubles, Baker looked to have a glittering career ahead of him but injury haunted his progression. Between November 2005 and July 2011 he underwent five different operations for his left hip (twice), a sports hernia, right hip and right elbow, and took three years to recover from the last round of surgery in 2008 before returning unranked in July 2011 when he won a Futures event in Pittsburgh.
Almost one year on, the Nashville-based resident can add the Wimbledon fourth round to his CV, but despite that remarkable achievement Baker was distinctly disappointed with the outcome of his last 16 encounter.
“I don’t know if, starting first-round 'qualies', I would have thought I would have maybe gotten to the fourth round of Wimbledon. But coming into the match today I hoped to have a different result - it’s still so frustrating.”
It has certainly been a whirlwind couple of months for Baker, whose heart-warming progress began on the clay of Paris, where he qualified for Roland Garros before falling to the No.11 seed, Gilles Simon, in the second round – his first five-set match.
But the Wimbledon chapter of this uplifting story ended the moment he met Kohlschreiber in a weather-interrupted match – which made it as far as the coin toss on Monday before the rain fell and was completed at the third attempt on Tuesday. From the off it was clear the German had his eyes on the quarter-final - he barely missed a ball, while Baker looked flat-footed, only managing to scrape together 12 points in the opening set.
Fortunes changed for the American in the second thanks to strong serving, which enabled him to hold comfortably and force a tie-break but when, at 4-4, a Kohlschreiber lob landed on the line it proved to be the turning point and the set went the way of the German.
Things began to unravel for Baker in the fourth game of the third set when a loose backhand handed Kohlschreiber a break point. A deep return off a powerful serve put the American on the back foot and he netted the ball and was broken.
Still, Baker leaves the tournament delighted to be on the right side of the Top 100 dividing line. “I think I was ranked something like 220 when I came over here, and then to leave, I don’t know what I’ll be, maybe around 80, I would have been very, very happy if you told me that [at the start],” he said.
“The trip as a whole has been great. It’s been unbelievable. I’ve gained a lot of confidence with my game and proven that I can stay healthy playing a lot of matches. Basically, since I’ve been coming back it’s been about the health and now it’s about the game. So that’s a good thing. It’s been an unbelievable ride.”
Meanwhile, Kohlschreiber faces his first Grand Slam quarter-final, where he takes on Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. The German said: “I’m very, very happy. I’m very happy [with] how I played. It’s just an amazing feeling. I think, after doing all the press, I really get the second time good emotions. For sure I will celebrate.”
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