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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Haas dumps Djokovic out to reach semis

Photo Titled Haas hits
Tommy Haas in action during his quarter-final match against Novak Djokovic.

Who said tennis was a young man’s game? Tommy Haas, the oldest man in the draw, brushed aside Novak Djokovic, the No.4 seed and the youngest man left in the tournament 7-5, 7-6 (8-6), 4-6, 6-3 in the quarter finals.

Haas had waited a long time to feel this good at a major tournament. His is a career which has been badly interrupted by injuries. And when he has not been injured or recovering from injury, he has so often been felled by his nerves.

But age can do wonders for a chap and, now that he is 31, Haas has learned the value of fitness, training and preparation. Reunited with his old coach, Thomas Hogstedt, he came within a whisker of beating Roger Federer at the French Open, then beat Djokovic on grass in the Halle final and has been growing in confidence round by round here at Wimbledon.

As he took on Djokovic, the German took a distinctly old-fashioned approach to playing on grass – he kept attacking the net. That was when he was not staying back and using his stunning backhand to unpick the Serb’s defences. Or serving like a demon to give Djokovic no chance to get into the rally. And his returns were not half bad either.

Djokovic was playing in the modern way – thumping ground strokes and explosive power. He too tried his hand at the net but it is not his natural hunting ground. When he came forward, it was usually on a wing and prayer and, as he scampered netwards, he usually passed Haas’s backhand flying in the opposite direction.

For the first 40 minutes, this clash of styles and generations produced an impasse – there was not a gnat’s whisker between the men and no sign of a break point. But then Haas, the man who once knew the pressures of being the world's No.2 player but now has relatively little to lose in this kind of match, applied the pressure. He backed Djokovic into a corner and, forcing the errors from him, he got the vital break of serve and made off with the first set.

The second set followed much the same pattern save for the fact that Djokovic’s body language was becoming increasingly downbeat. When Haas again broke for a 6-5 lead – that trusty backhand again doing the damage – Djokovic started a loud and long rant in Serbian, which was probably just as well. It was better that no-one else knew just how frustrated he was.

That was when the reality dawned on Haas that he was on the verge of wiping the floor with the world No.4 – and the nerves set in. The German dropped serve and Djokovic moved towards three set points. That was when Haas yelled at himself to wake up and, taking his own advice, he ran away with the next five points and, with them, the second set.

By now, Djokovic was looking tetchy and flustered. Even taking the third set did little for his confidence and by the time he had dropped his serve to go 3-1 down in the fourth, the match was there for Haas to lose rather than Djokovic to win.

The only trouble for Djokovic was that Haas had no intention of losing, not now, not at the age of 31 and on the threshold of his first Wimbledon semi-final to add to his three appearances at that stage in Australia in 2007, 2002 and back in 1999. Who said this was a young man’s game?

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