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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Evergreen Haas goes back to future

Photo Titled Haas down low
Tommy Haas on his way to victory over Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals.
When you are a tennis player in your 30s, it is fair to say that - in career terms - you have more years behind you than ahead of you. German Tommy Haas, a Wimbledon semi-finalist for the first time at the age of 31, is one of that special breed who is determined never to dwell on his past.

Instead, he prefers to always look to the future. And following his stunning quarter-final win over Novak Djokovic, that includes a Centre Court showdown against Swiss master Roger Federer on Friday.

Haas has 10 Wimbledons in his past, stretching back to 1997. But until this year, there had been one solitary fourth round appearance and a ton of trials and tribulations.

Some might say it is about time luck smiled down on the hardworking German who has had his fair share of bad luck over the years.

And in his post-match press conference, as the world’s media explored the possibility of another German joining Steffi Graf, Boris Becker and Michael Stich in the Wimbledon record books, Haas felt obliged to do what he likes least - to reflect on his own previous misadventures here.

He said: “If you just look through the years of me playing Wimbledon, there is a lot of bad luck involved. I have lost a lot of tight ones.

“The year when I was three in the world [2002], I would have been seeded high, [but] my parents had a really bad motorcycle accident so I skipped that year.

“Then when I had a pretty good draw where I felt I could get far, I stepped on a ball in the warm-up.

“I lost three tiebreaks against Wayne Arthurs in the third round one year. Lost 9-7 in the fifth set one time to Marc Rosset in the third round.”

However, Haas quickly asserts that is history and “all in the past”. In fact, he admits that “deep down”, he feels there is time for him to achieve something special here.

“It better come up soon, because I’m not getting any younger,” he quipped. “I always felt like on the grass maybe something is still left there for me.”

His incredible form on turf began in Halle in June where he defeated Novak Djokovic to take his first title on grass. Now Haas is enjoying a huge confidence boost and relishing every moment.

“This is why you go and do rehab or you train hard. You push yourself even more to try to get to these occasions and follow your dreams as a kid. Tennis players have a short career, some shorter than others. At 33, 34 or 35 you might be done. Then you have a whole life left. You want to be able to look back and say ‘Hey, I played the sport that I love as long as I could and I’ve tried my best’. You look back at what you have accomplished and you want to be proud of yourself.”

Now only one opponent stands between Haas and his first Grand Slam final. The problem is that man is Roger Federer and the German is under no illusions about how hard it will be to overcome the man who has been in the last six finals here.

In fact, it was Federer who ended Haas’s French Open this year in an unforgettable five-set battle, in which the German was five points from securing a straight sets win. Then on a fateful break point opportunity, he was stunned by a superb Federer forehand, which sparked a turnaround in fortunes.

Lesser men might be distraught at having to face the same opponent in the next Grand Slam. Certainly Robin Soderling has shown this fortnight that it is far from easy to gain a quick revenge over the French Open champion.

But Haas is determined not to dwell on the past, no matter how recent, and is surprisingly magnanimous about that defeat. He said: “It is in the past. It’s done. Being a friend of his and knowing how much it meant to him winning the French Open, I’m happy he made that shot."

He added that he expected Federer to go down in history as the greatest player ever. So could he explain what it is about his next opponent’s game that makes it so special?

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