Tommy Haas: The Golden Boy of the Sony Open
By Jane Voigt
MIAMI, FL (March 28, 2013) — People say Roger Federer dances on court, his smooth tennis a testament to a sport that brutalizes fuzzy yellow balls.
Some people say Tommy Haas is cut from the same cloth as Federer when it comes to movement. Both are graceful athletes in their early 30s. They hit one-handed backhands and do not squeak a sound while relentlessly chasing the object of their keen attention.
The comparisons could stop there though.
Roger is known for his fashion panache. Just think back to his 3-piece off-white Nike suit he trotted out on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Conversely, Tommy Haas dresses as if he donned his duds in the dark.
“Yeah, I’m pretty pathetic when it comes to color matching,” Haas said after his surprise upset over world No. 1, Novak Djokovic, at Sony Open Tennis Tuesday night. “Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror before I go out and I’m like, Jesus, what was I thinking there?
Haas would do better if he had a clothing contract, he announced. Hopefully someone out there in the wide-wide world of sports marketing heard his cry for help because Tommy Haas, who will turn 35 next week, is a hot commodity once again.
If beating Djokovic wasn’t enough of an eye popper, the comparisons of Haas then and now took off in the media. The best one: Haas last defeated a number-one player in 1995. His name was Andre Agassi.
Tennis has traveled light years since then. Racquets proclaim space-age materials, like Head’s newly introduced Graphene. Strings, too, have made a bed of strength for aggressive baseliners. Add rigorous fitness routines, when many are in the gym more than on practice courts, and you have a transformed tennis.
Haas has had his share of injuries, even before the revolution in gear and the required fitness that goes along with the gear. He broke his right ankle in December, 1995, and his left ankle twelve months later. Both required surgery. Then his hip gave out, as did his tennis due to rehabilitation.
“When I came back from my hip surgery it was grueling, I don’t know, 9 or 12 months before I actually felt like I could sort of train again and get in better shape, and give myself a chance to al leas try to go for some victories,” Haas said.
In the middle of last year, Haas’ body adjusted enough that he could train.
“If you can’t train and put in the hard yards in this sport anymore, you’re not going to get far,” he began. “Not at least to the point where maybe you have a chance against a top player.”
Pressing against the limits of strength and stamina isn’t something he had to learn.
“From experience I know that,” he said. “Luckily, I’m a guy that likes to work out and gets in the best shape that I can possibly can, my body allowing. Right now I feel pretty good, as good as I have in a long time. I just never give up.”
Haas was ranked No. 2 in 2002 and currently resides at No. 18. By making the semifinal he will crack the top 15 on Monday. Last year, at Sony Open Tennis, he was ranked 145.
A win over Ferrer, seeded No. 3, would be another blast for the news, for Haas, and for the Sony Open.
With Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic long gone, this tournament has suffered from lack of star power, although Andy Murray remains having defeated Marin Cilic 64 63. The situation has provoked fan murmurs and sports’ commentators. Lower attendance figures confirm the predominant perception: it’s just not worth going if those top guys aren’t playing.
Watching Tommy Haas and Xavier Malisse play doubles later this afternoon was definitely worth the trip, though. Grigor Dimitrov and Frederick Nielsen, one half of the 2012 Wimbledon men doubles champions, shot out in front. They won the first set, which didn’t please Haas. He had lost the first game on his service.
Fans were reminded that Haas had not lost his defiant bite, even as he embraced fatherhood. He smacked his racquet, the bottom of his shoes, and peppered the stadium with what sounded like offensive German throughout the match. His outbursts, though, were a far cry from years past when he screamed at Red Ames, his coach from The Nick Bollettieri Academy.
Haas and Malisse won the second set. In a flash, though, Dimitrov and Nielsen won 64 26 10-7. Haas now had time to focus on his semifinal opponent, David Ferrer.
Even with the Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal trio out, the Sony Open could not have anticipated the little things Valentina Haas, Haas’ 2-year-old daughter, added. Earlier in the week she surprised everyone, running on court to congratulate him after a win.
Today, she walked up to a court-side reporter, pointed to the court and said, ‘That’s my daddy.’ Later she returned, toting a pillow. The reporter’s legs were stretched out on a chair. Valentina dipped underneath and then back again. She headed back to her mother, Sarah. Tommy’s parents were there, too. They celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary today.