zachbissett

Happy 500 Tommy Haas!

In sports, TV, writing on 10/19/2012 at 15:56

Inspired by Tommy Haas’ 500th career win this morning and William Miller’s post here, I decided to take a look at one of the most interesting careers in sports today.

With a routine 6-4, 6-2 win over American Jesse Levine in the second round of Vienna’s Erste Bank Open, Germany’s Tommy Haas reached the illustrious 500 win mark. With Andy Roddick’s recent retirement, Haas is now only the fourth active player on tour with 500 or more wins, joining Roger Federer (871), Rafael Nadal (583) and Lleyton Hewitt (566).

“I knew for a few days that I would reach the milestone if I won this match. This was a big goal of mine,” said Haas. “In April, I was at around 472 wins and I knew it wouldn’t be easy to win another 27 or 28 matches.” In honor of the achievement, Haas was gifted a custom Fiat 500 by the tournament.

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Haas, who won Vienna in 2001, faces a qualifier in the next round and likes his chances to add to the win column. “For now I’m focusing on next year,” Haas said. “One of my goals for this year was to win my 13th title since 13 is my lucky number. Next year is 2013 and as long as I’m fit I want to play the whole year.”

Not many 34 year olds are focusing on “next year” in the world of professional tennis. In tennis, 34 year olds are about as effective as corpses. But then, Tommy Haas has had a career unlike any player before him.

Haas was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world and has reached four grand slam semi finals (three in Australia, one at Wimbledon). He’s won 12 singles titles and 2 doubles titles, including a Masters 1000 victory and a silver medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics.

Charting Haas’ match win count is perhaps the best way to illustrate his up and down career: Haas won his first pro match in Indianapolis over 16 years ago, and hit the 100 mark 3 years later; it took 2 years to add another hundred but Tommy did not reach 300 wins until 2005, 4 years later; 400 took just 2 years again. That was 5 years ago, and finally Haas hits 500.

Tommy Haas announced himself to the tennis world at age 20, when he reached his first semi final at the Australian Open, and later that year reached the Grand Slam Cup final. Haas was brash and volatile on court, but his intelligent, soft-spoken and humorous off court persona shone through more and more as he matured.

In 2001 Haas won four titles and finished the year ranked 8th in the world. However, Goran Ivanisevic had won Wimbledon that year, thereby securing a spot at the Year End Championships. Haas never competed at the World Tour Finals.

The following season, ranked second in the world, Haas’ parents were in a tragic car accident which nearly took their lives and left his father in a coma. Haas took a leave of absence from the sport to take care of them.

Soon after his return Haas required shoulder surgery. The surgery and subsequent complications sidelined Haas for the majority of the next two years. Before this first wave of injuries, Haas had notable records over current and former World No. 1’s Andy Roddick (3-0), Pete Sampras (5-5), Federer (2-1), Marat Safin (2-1) and Jim Courier (2-0). During his 2004 return Haas secured two titles as he attempted to resume the form that saw him rise to world No. 2. At 25, Haas looked to have missed some formative years, but was ready to enter his physical prime and win a Major.

In 2006 Tommy won 3 more titles and reached the quarterfinals of the US Open, where he was up 2 sets to love over Nikolay Davydenko before cramps cost Haas the match.

In 2007 Haas ditched his trademark ponytail and began the year with a third run to the Australian semifinals, beating Davydenko in 5 sets along the way. Haas lost one of the most lopsided Grand Slam semifinals in tennis history. Still, the semifinal saw Haas return to the Top 10 for the first time in 5 years. In February Haas won the Memphis title without facing a break point, winning titles in consecutive years for the first time in his career at 29 years old.

Haas’ good form continued throughout the US hard court season and into summer, where he reached the 4th round of Wimbledon for the first time. Haas was set to play Federer before having to withdraw, suffering a strained abdominal in warm ups. The freak accident sidelined Haas most of the summer. He returned at the US Open, reaching the quarterfinals again and scoring a fifth set tiebreak win over James Blake, where he saved match points. At this point, it was impossible to predict where Tommy Haas was going. He was almost 30 and had a poor health record, and yet any time he strung a few healthy months together the results were encouraging.

Unfortunately Tommy’s 2008 was marred with injuries, forcing him to miss Australia and the French Open, severely dropping him in the rankings. Injuries continued early in 2009, and Haas was no longer seeded at Grand Slam events. Haas won his first ever doubles title that year, sparking a third resurgence. Haas found himself up 2 sets to 0 over top seed Roger Federer at the French Open, with a break point to serve for the match. Haas did not convert, and went on to lose 76 75 46 06 26.

Despite the crushing defeat, Haas won his first ever grass title a week later in front of a home crowd, upsetting Novak Djokovic in the final of Halle. Haas found himself ranked 35 in the world at 31 years old.

Haas won a memorable five-set match against Marin Čilić at Wimbledon, where he had match points in the 4th set. Tommy saw two more match points serving at 5–6 when the match was suspended due to darkness. The next day, Haas broke Cilic at 8–8 and won 7–5, 7–5, 1–6, 6–7, 10–8. In the quarterfinals he faced Djokovic again, and the world expected the young Serb to hand the veteran a cold plate of revenge. Haas triumphed in 4 sets, advancing to his first ever Wimbledon semifinal. Haas lost to Federer, but rose to 19 in the rankings.

Feeling confident for the first time in years, 2010 came and injuries hit the aging Haas again. It seemed like the inconsistent career had come to an end; only a very select group of tennis players have success after 30. Haas missed almost a full year recovering from another shoulder surgery and hip surgery and ended the year ranked #373. Haas returned at the 2011 French Open and 2011 Wimbledon, losing in the first round on both occasions.

Haas had to withdraw from his first tournament of 2012 with another nagging setback. Gradually, however, Haas recovered and started playing more frequently, highlighted by a semifinal run in Munich which brought him back into the world’s Top 100. With a wild card into Halle, Haas beat Tomas Berdych and younger countrymen Philip Kohlschreiber en route to a finals match up with grass court guru Roger Federer. Haas triumphed in straight sets.

Having started the year outside the top 200, Haas is now ranked #20 in the world at age 34. He is the oldest man in the top 100 and will rise with a good showing in Vienna. If Haas can remain healthy for the next few weeks, he will enter the off season with more confidence and his best health in almost 5 years.

Whatever happens to Haas, his Olympic medal, his 14 career titles and his 500 wins will stand the test of time. Playing in the eras of Sampras, Federer and Nadal, majors are hard to come by, but Haas had to contest a far greater enemy: his own body. Whether Haas was “won” the battle or not is irrelevant. What matters is, for the moment, he’s winning.

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