NASHVILLE, Tenn. Brian Baker knows a thing or two or a half-dozen or so, for that matter about healing.
Then again, the once-promising tennis prodigy has spent most of his adult life doing just that.
This time last year, Baker was in the process of capping an amazing comeback to professional tennis by advancing to the quarterfinal round at The Championships at Wimbledon, finishing runner-up at the ATP World Tour event in Nice, France, earning a wild-card invitation to the French Open, and eventually rising to a No. 52 international world ranking.
All that plus the fact Baker had previously missed six years of competitive tennis because of five major surgeries and various other maladies made 2013 one of great promise for the 27-year-old, who once carried the label of The Next Great American Hope for a return to international tennis supremacy, after rising to a No. 2 world ranking as a juniors player.
Then, it happened again at the Australian Open in January. After an opening-round victory over Russia's Alex Bogomolov, Baker tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee against fellow American Sam Querry.
"At first, I was in shock," Baker said of the most-recent injury that resulted in yet another surgery to be added to the previous five, including three hip, one elbow and one sports hernia procedures. "When you tweak something, you know it.
"I knew it was severe, and I started thinking about what it was going to take to come back again. At first, it was devastating because you know how hard you had worked to come back. I was depressed for a few weeks, then you become motivated to start to work on the rehab."
Instead of six years this time, Baker returns after six months of intensive rehabilitation. This week, he announced he will enter the BB&T Atlanta Open (July 20-28 at Atlantic Station). The tournament is the first of the eight-tourney Emirates Airlines U.S. Open Series that culminates in late August with the U.S. Open.
"I think it will give me a little bit more confidence this time just knowing that I have done it before," Baker said of yet another comeback from injury. "I have the knowledge of knowing how much I can push it or knowing when I need to pull back. Every injury is a different one to come back from, though."
Because of his ranking at the time of the most-recent injury, the Nashville native and resident can enter nine tournaments with a provisional No. 56 world ranking, although he is not listed as such on the current ATP World Tour rankings. During those events, he will have the opportunity to re-establish a new world ranking.
"We are thrilled to be Brian Baker's first tournament back since his Australian Open injury," BB&T Atlanta Open director Bob Bryant said in a statement. "Brian has persevered for one of the greatest comebacks in professional sports, and the BB&T Atlanta Open is glad to assist him in the next chapter of his career by granting a wild card into our main draw."
Last week, Baker (whose knee is not yet 100 percent) traveled to Newport, R.I. site of the ATP World Tour's Hall of Fame Tennis Championships to find quality opponents against which to test his game.
"A lot of times during the middle of the summer when everybody is playing every week, it's hard to get top-level competition and training," Baker said. "So, you have to go out to the tournaments and find a glorified hitting partner for the week."
Ultimately, Baker feels the return to the ATP World Tour in Atlanta met his schedule best, although he is not going to push it, if he doesnt feel completely confident. If not Atlanta, then his return could come the following week at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C.
"It has been up and down," Baker said of his rehab and subsequent return to the court. "I have had a few moments, but I wouldnt call them setbacks. Im still training every week and getting closer.
"Nothing is for certain, but I am still improving each week. I am getting closer. I wanted to come back when I am totally ready."
From the moment he finally returns, though, Baker wants to play a normal schedule the remainder of the season and start preparing for 2014.
"I will sit down in a couple of weeks before the (U.S.) Open and reassess where we are," he said. "I want to see how my body reacts, and then I will have a better idea then of how many tournaments I will play."