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The life of Brian: Baker's French Open fairytale

By Tom McGowan, CNN
updated 9:41 AM EDT, Tue May 29, 2012
Brian Baker's victory over Xavier Malisse in the first round of the French Open capped a remarkable comeback. The American had not played at one of tennis' grand slams since the U.S. Open in 2005. Brian Baker's victory over Xavier Malisse in the first round of the French Open capped a remarkable comeback. The American had not played at one of tennis' grand slams since the U.S. Open in 2005.
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Baker back with a bang
The fabulous Baker boy
Junior promise
Gaudio gunned down
Former rivals
A date with destiny
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Brian Baker is playing in his first grand slam event since the 2005 U.S. Open
  • The American has been plagued by injuries throughout his career
  • Baker has had elbow and hip problems which led to five operations
  • The 27-year-old beat Xavier Malisse in the first round of the French Open Monday

(CNN) -- In 2005, Brian Baker was one of the rising stars of American tennis. Aged just 20, he recorded a shock win over world No. 9 Gaston Gaudio at the U.S. Open.

Despite being beaten in the second round, the future looked bright for the Tennessee native. However, it was to be his last match at a grand slam tournament for seven years as a nightmare series of injuries and operations threatened to end his promising career.

"I was the No. 2-ranked junior in the world," Baker told CNN's Open Court. "I was hoping to start off with a bang on the ATP Tour and have a successful career, whether top 50, top 10 or top 20."

Instead, he had to have five surgeries in four years. And until recently, his only involvement in tennis was playing on the low-ranking Challenger Tour and coaching his college team.

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As well as elbow and hernia injuries, the root of Baker's fitness problems lie with a hip condition which has troubled him since he was a boy.

"Femoroacetabular Impingement is a developmental condition that has to do with the way his hip formed when he was probably nine or 10 years old," Doctor Thomas Byrd told CNN.

"There's an overgrowth around the socket where the femoral head grows out, sort of like the front end of your car being a little out of alignment. It leads to some uneven wear inside the hip.

"What's remarkable to me he was able to reach such an elite status in the first place. He was spending as much time battling his hips as he was his opponent."

But now Baker is back on the big stage, having made a remarkable comeback.

On Wednesday, the 27-year-old will play in the second round of a grand slam for the second time in his career.

Learn more about Baker's next French Open opponent

Having been awarded a wildcard entry to the French Open after winning a Challenger tournament in April, Baker reached his first ATP Tour final at a warmup event in Nice last weekend.

He lost that match, but won his opener at Roland Garros on Monday against the man who beat him in New York in 2005, Belgium's world No. 77 Xavier Malisse.

Baker next faces a much tougher test against French 11th seed Gilles Simon, but his family are just glad to see him back out on the court enjoying himself.

"I was just so happy for him because that's what he'd worked all this time to go back for," said his father Steve. "Now that he's done that we hope to have a good time in Paris.

"We've watched him play in grand slam matches before; it's not the first time. I always thought I would one day go to see him play in Roland Garros."

The famous clay-court venue holds special memories for Baker, who reached the 2003 French Open boys' final before losing to Switzerland's Stanislaw Wawrinka -- who has since enjoyed a steady career and is ranked 21st in the world.

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While players such as Marcos Baghdatis and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga -- both of whom he beat during that Roland Garros run -- were winning titles and climbing the rankings, Baker was trying to rescue his fading career.

"I think Marcus beat me a couple of times, but I got the better of him a few more times," Baker told CNN. "That was right when I was coming back from my first hip surgery.

"I had no idea I was going to have four more surgeries ... I can't remember who he beat, (David) Nalbandian and somebody else. It definitely gave me some motivation -- maybe if I come back I could have some good results."

Baker's return gained real momentum in Nice. Before losing to defending champion Nicolas Almagro in the final, he scored notable wins over former junior rival and world No. 14 Gael Monfils and Russia's former No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko, a 21-time title winner on the ATP Tour.

"Every time you go onto court you want to win," Baker told the ATP Tour's official website after his final defeat. "I am a competitor, I hate losing. But, when you look at the week as a whole, it has been an unbelievable week.

"I hoped to qualify at the start of the week and win a match or two before going to Roland Garros. I obviously did much better.

"I think even in the qualifying, I felt as if I was playing pretty well. I won my three matches easily and knew I was playing good tennis."

Baker's compatriot John Isner, ranked 11th in the world, is pleased to see his former junior rival back competing at the highest level.

"We are virtually the exact same age," Isner told CNN. "We were born days apart in and played in the juniors, he was hands down one of the best players in the country.

"He definitely deserves it and he has worked really hard. And he hasn't let all of these obstacles discourage him.

"He is still doing what he loves and that is playing tennis -- and he is doing very well. You know, without more injuries and if he can stay healthy, I can see him in the top 100."

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