A Night To Remember: Haas Stuns Djokovic at the Sony Open

Haas ushered world No. 1 Novak Djokovic out of Miami with style and grace.

More than thirteen long years had passed since the last time that Tommy Haas had defeated a reigning #1, so long that he couldn’t even remember who it was or where it was.  A string of players had passed through the top spot since his 1999 victory over Andre Agassi in a tournament that no longer exists, while the spectacularly talented German struggled with injury after injury and never rose higher than No. 2 or reached a major final.  Late in a career filled with frustrations, Haas has found stability and contentment more than ever before, as his game reflects.  At the age of 34, he upset Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last year during his ascent from outside the top 200 to inside the top 20.

All the same, one hardly fancied his chances on Tuesday night against three-time Sony Open champion and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who had steamrolled his first two opponents and seemed better adapted to the slow hard courts in Miami.  Haas felt confident at the outset, though, for he recalled the “last couple of times I played Novak” and especially a Toronto three-setter last year when “we had a really good battle, which I was really happy about the way I played.”  As it turned out, he felt, the conditions “favored me a little bit” because of the wind that has swept through many night sessions.

From 1-2 in the first set to 2-0 in the second, Haas reeled off seven straight games with penetrating groundstrokes and outstanding serving.  To that stage, he lost only three points on his serve and consistently kept Djokovic—one of the ATP’s best movers—scrambling and lunging for shots out of his reach.  Not since his title run in Halle, in his view, had he “maintained a really high level” against an elite oppponent and produced “something really special” that he will remember for a long time.

Failing to convert chances for an insurance break in both of the Serb’s next two service games might have unglued the temperamental Haas of his peak years.  And they loomed large when he dropped serve at love for 3-3 in the second set and lost 11 straight points in his only lull of the match.  “I just wasn’t happy with the way I gave those points away, really,” said Haas.  As he sat during the changeover, suddenly trailing 3-4 with a crucial service game to come, he forced himself to remain calm.  “Try to hold here to keep it tight….If you have a chance, play a little bit different than before.”

He would not lose another game, rediscovering the right mixture of patience and aggression in finding the Serb’s errant forehand wing often and finishing points at the net when he found the opportunity.  Haas did not lose a point in the forecourt despite Djokovic’s reputation for sparkling passing shots, and he served out the match more comfortably than most underdogs would have against a world No. 1.  “I had the mentality tonight going out there believing it,” said Haas, and nobody would argue with that statement after watching him finish an eye-opening display.

The man who turns 35 next week will rejoin the top 15 after this tournament if he can defeat French counterpuncher Gilles Simon in a quarterfinal tomorrow night, a grinding match that Haas cannot underestimate amid his euphoria.  But, even in the immediate aftermath of his upset, he sounded ready to take the next step forward from his victory.  “Right now I feel pretty good, as good as I have in a long time and, you know, just never give up.”   While fully aware of Simon’s relentless defense, he said calmly that the match “really depends on what kind of night I have, I think.”

If it resembles this night at all, it will be another night to remember for the veteran who never gives up.