ON the eve of his first Australian Open, no one appreciates the opportunity to play in a Grand Slam more than Brian Baker.
The American had a great junior career, beating the likes of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Marcos Baghdatis on his way to the 2003 junior French Open final where he was beaten by Stanislas Wawrinka.
His first victory in a Grand Slam came at the 2005 US Open where he upset ninth seed Gaston Gaudio, but within months it seemed his career may have been over.
"At the end of '05 my left hip was bothering me at the US Open, and after that I had my first left hip surgery," the 27-year-old said.
"That was the start of a big string of injuries which kept me out for the better part of six years. I ended up having two left hip surgeries, a right hip surgery, a sports hernia surgery and right elbow surgery, so it was a string of bad luck."
That seems like an understatement.
Baker effectively gave the game away, going back to university to study business before getting into tennis coaching.
He began playing again in the middle of 2011, conscious not to put too much strain on his body, and within a few months had risen to No. 760 in the world.
If the fact he was back playing was a fairytale, what came next was the stuff of dreams.
Last year at Wimbledon, not only did he make it through qualifying, he provided the feelgood story of the tournament by making it to the fourth round where he was beaten by 18th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber.
He ended 2012 ranked No.61 in the world after reaching a career-high ranking of 52 in October, describing the achievement as "pretty remarkable".
Asked why he didn't give it away during his dark times, Baker said it was a matter of having unfinished business.
"I still remained hopeful, and if I could I wanted to go back - it's as simple as that," he said.
"I love tennis. That's what I've done for most of my life, so not being able to play for those years was really tough."
Now that he has tasted success, he wants more, starting with his first appearance at Melbourne Park.
"Once you have success you keep on wanting to do better," he said.
"I'd like to get into the top 50 and hopefully make another run in a Grand Slam like I did last year at Wimbledon.
"Just keep on moving up, and also the main goal every year is to keep looking after the body and make sure I stay healthy."
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