- Associated Press - Saturday, June 30, 2012

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND (AP) - Brian Baker’s career can easily be explained with numbers: Five operations, six years away from tennis, a ranking of 458th at the start of this year.

The latest number to add to the list sounds a whole lot better: fourth round of Wimbledon.

Baker’s career renaissance just keeps getting better at the All England Club, as the now 126th-ranked American advanced into the second week by beating Benoit Paire of France 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 _ a victory that also 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. Then another one on his right hip and after that a second one on his left.

Just as he was returning in 2008, he had to undergo an elbow surgery that 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 _ 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. After three wins at Wimbledon, there are a lot of people starting to believe in his ability.

“It’s just great to see. Everyone loves a comeback story,” said Andy Roddick, the three-time Wimbledon runner-up, who was beaten by David Ferrer of Spain in the third round Saturday.

“You think of people who are off for six months and it’s tough to come back. Hell, six years, I can’t imagine that,” Roddick said.

“He just fell off the map,” said fellow American Mardy Fish, who is playing his first tournament since undergoing a procedure on his heart in May. He beat David Goffin to reach the fourth round at Wimbledon on Saturday.

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