Tuesday, June 2, 2009

One-on-one with Tommy Haas

Tommy Haas

Tommy Haas put in a brilliant performance at this year’s French Open, making it to the fourth round, where he went two sets up against Roger Federer before the Swiss clawed his way back for the win.

The German has already managed two come-backs after injury, and at 31, his love for the sport has not diminished.

A tennis ace with movie star looks, Tommy Haas is no stranger to Hollywood, engaged to American actress Sara Foster and friends with ex-film star Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. It is therefore not surprising that his tennis career is worthy of a movie script.

The Tommy story starts charmingly enough. A student of the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy since 1991, Haas became the youngest player in history to enter the top 50 at the age of 18. In 1998 he beat Andre Agassi at Wimbledon and in the same season he made it to the semi-finals at the Australian Open and entered the top 10.

In May 2002, at age 24, the Hamburg native reached No2 in the world rankings. The success story was now perfect. Well, almost. “The only thing missing was winning a Grand Slam at that point,” confesses Haas. The plot of this tennis story soon took its first twist when Tommy suffered his first injury.

"If I hadn’t had a good doctor I wouldn’t be here.’’

After playing half a season with an injured right shoulder, Haas was operated on in December 2002 and then again in July 2003, and was kept him away from the circuit for fifteen months. When he made his comeback, wins in Houston and Los Angeles were rewarded at the end of the season with a No17 ranking.

"If I hadn’t had such a good doctor, I wouldn’t be here today,” says the plain-speaking veteran. In 2006 and 2007, Haas won four tournaments and reached the semi-finals in Melbourne, putting the top ten once again at his fingertips.

Then, after four fit seasons, Tommy’s shoulder injury reared its ugly head again. After undergoing yet another operation, the German was once again kept away from the courts. For the second time in twelve years, Tommy dropped out of the top 50. At the end of 2008, he fell to No84, but this in no way affected his love of the game. “Going through the qualifying stages was a new challenge. It can even help you by giving you confidence, which is a very important factor in tennis,” says the man who rattled No2 seed Federer on Monday, pocketing the first two of their five-set battle.

"You get more intelligent with age."

"I’ve still got a few years in me,” predicts Haas. “I love the game and, as long as my body lets me, I’ll carry on. Of course with age it gets harder to recover after matches, especially when you’re on court for over three hours. But you get wiser and more intelligent with age. When you’re younger, you don’t always play like you should.”

At 31, Haas still sees retirement as a long way off. “It can be scary thinking about life after tennis. It’s difficult, but I don’t think about it yet.” The German was without a coach for a few weeks in the run-up to Roland Garros and now has a brand new advisor, but is unwilling to divulge his name, preferring to keep his cards close to his chest. And after such a great performance on Monday, we can understand why…

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