Biddle's Beat: Wed. July 4, 2012 - WKRN News 2

Biddle's Beat: Wed. July 4, 2012

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Nashville's Brian Baker was Wimbledon's mystery man.

Who was this imposter invading the men's round of 16 on Wimbledon's hallowed grass?

Some players had a faint recollection of Baker. Others had written the once-highly ranked junior star off. After all, they hadn't seen him in six years.

Asked what he knew of Baker before they played their rain-delayed fourth round, Germany's Phillip Kohlschreiber shrugged.

"Nothing,'' he said.

No wonder. In the professional tennis world Baker's picture had been on milk cartons for those six years.

He wasn't hidden away at Nick Bollettieri's tennis factory in Florida. The most competitive tennis Baker was playing was with

his attorney father Steve, and an uncle.

Baker spent more time in hospitals than the doctors on Grey's Anatomy. He had five surgical procedures over the six-year span. When he turned 20, Baker's body started breaking down.

He had two operations on his left hip, another surgery on his right hip. He had a sports hernia. He had Dr. James Andrews repair his right elbow, as the famous Birmingham, Ala., based surgeon has performed countless Tommy John surgeries, mainly on baseball players.

There were numerous hours of tedious, painful rehab.

Brian Baker could have quit. He could have walked away from his once promising tennis career.

But his dream would not vanish. He worked on a college degree at Belmont, helped coach the Bruins tennis team.

His game started coming around. His body responded in kind.

So here he was, the 27-year-old Rip Van Winkle of tennis, standing on a court at Wimbledon one step away from playing the quarter-finals. He was one of 16 men left in the singles draw.

C'mon. This was a script even Hollywood wouldn't swallow.

But the clock struck midnight against Kohlschreiber and Baker was eliminated in three sets – 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-3.

Not bad for an unknown who had to reach the main draw by winning three qualifying rounds.

"I don't know if, starting first-round 'qualies,' I would have thought I would have maybe gotten to the fourth round of Wimbledon,'' Baker admitted in a press conference after his loss. "But coming into the match (Tuesday) I hoped to have a different result. It's still so frustrating.''

Baker enjoyed the ride. After all, at the start of the year he was mired at No. 458 in the world. He leaves Wimbledon with a ranking under 100.

His has been the tennis story of the year, one of the most improbable success stories in the sport's history.

For more than six years, he had spent far more time in operating rooms than on tennis courts. Not exactly a formula on how to reach Wimbledon's round of 16.

His parents and girlfriend followed him to London.  Twice they had to rebook return flights, as they had doubts Brian would keep winning.

Baker has earned more than $200,000 in his improbable journey.

From being the No. 2 ranked junior in the world in 2003, to his surprise return to the pro ranks after his extended absence from the game, the Hillwood High graduate is once again making a name for himself.

Baker didn't have his best game Tuesday while Kohlschreiber did. Baker battled back to force a tie-breaker in the pivotal second set, but couldn't summon enough winning shots.

"It's not like when I took off six years, I didn't hit balls, but I definitely wasn't playing or training against people of this caliber,'' Baker would say Tuesday.

"So it was very nice to see that I'm able to step my game up. My game is better than it was when I was playing before. I don't know if I have an exact formula for why that is.''

He may never know why, or how, this meteoric rise up the tennis ladder happened to him.

"It's been an unbelievable run,'' Baker said. "I can't be too upset.''

The summer of 2012 will be one that Brian Baker will never forget.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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