DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- If you're looking for a player sporting a big smile, don't look any further than Taylor Dent.
He's a new father to son Declan, born at the end of last month to wife and former player Jenny Hopkins.
He's basking in a new lease on his tennis life after a serious back injury kept him from the game for most of 2006 through 2008, very nearly ending his career prematurely.
And the 28-year-old, who is using his free time on the road for self-education, has a cool passion he is contemplating as his next career.
"I really like coaching, but my second passion is politics," Dent said. "It's one of my goals on tour to get as educated as I can and then, maybe, even attend a college, so I can pursue a political career. Maybe, local government to get my feet wet, but this is so far down the road it's a pipe dream."
Dent favors a Republican point of view, a leaning that comes courtesy of his mother, Betty, a former player. Although he didn't vote in the past presidential election, which he says "embarrasses" him -- he did vote for Bush before that -- he plans on always doing his civic duty in the future.
"I'm a constitutionalist, a conservative, and I think those go hand in hand," Dent said. "I think what has made America great is the Constitution over the past 200 years, and I believe in the separation of powers in the government and the states having power to govern themselves. That's what's made America the freest country in the world."
The self-education process was in high gear this week at the International Tennis Championships, where Dent will play seventh seed James Blake in the first round. He listened to an audio book on Ronald Reagan during the four-hour drive from his Sarasota home, and was in the player lounge reading a book on fair tax.
"It was good and a lot on [Reagan's] background and how he grew up," Dent said of his lesson on Reagan. "I was actually interested to learn that when he was growing up he was very liberal and believed almost opposite to his beliefs when he was president. It was interesting to see the progression and how he evolved."
Nevertheless, before Dent can look to a possible second career as a political animal, he's busy making the most of a second opportunity to play professional tennis.
He came back to the tour full-time in 2009 and jumped from No. 803 into the top 100, ending the season at No. 76, his first top-100 year-end ranking since 2005. He was 12-15 on the ATP Tour, but went 17-6 at Challengers, winning the Knoxville and Champaign titles.
"My whole approach to my comeback has been is on what I can't achieve and, realistically, I've had trouble trying to find what I can't achieve," Dent said. "I set out a goal, saying what is it going to take to achieve that goal, is it possible, and the answer is always yes.
"I'm never happy, but definitely not disappointed. To be able to come back from what I went through and to be able to play professional tennis at all is a feat in itself. It's great, to be able to compete with these guys at a top level is gravy. But I'm never happy because I always want more."
Dent's injury did not result in his taking a different, more cautious approach to the game. He characterizes himself as a tennis player with a football player's physique, which translates to a perpetually aggressive, low-percentage playing style.
He even approaches the concept of being coached differently: "I'm coached by community." He seeks advice from his father, former Australian player Phil Dent, along with Tom Gullikson and a number of other well-known coaching names.
Dent keeps his fans fully apprised via Twitter and has a program that uploads his tweets to his Facebook page as well.
Of late, the news has been more about Declan, who was named after a character from the movie "The Jackal," starring Richard Gere and Bruce Willis.
Dent tweeted how he decided to risk missing the birth to play at the Australian Open, a decision he admitted probably wouldn't have been taken if he hadn't lost three years of playing because of his back injury and surgery.
As it turned out, he made it home in time for the birth, but sheepishly admits that it wasn't totally fortuitous.
"I did make it back in time, but I don't know if that was a good or bad thing," Dent said. "Jenny might have to get me under contract; she might have to pay me to do it again. It was heart-wrenching and her delivery was not easy. And there was nothing much I could do."
Maybe being a labor coach isn't his strong suit. But understanding the serendipity of receiving a second chance, and contemplating intriguing options for the future, certainly comes easily for Dent.