By Yeshayahu Ginsburg
There are a lot of things that can be said about Tommy Haas. He came out of the gate very early in his career, reaching his first final in 1997 at the age of 18, upsetting Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the process. Haas won his first title at in 1999 and first cracked the top 10 a few months later. Haas reached a career-high of World #2 at the age of 24, but that is really where he peaked. Haas’s career is a sad tale, actually, though it is great to see him still competing at a high level.
Haas’s career can be defined by 3 things. The first, which is something that troubled an entire generation of tennis players, was an inability to beat Roger Federer. Haas did not meet Federer at seemingly every turn in Slams the same way that, say, Andy Roddick did, but Federer held him back from having a better career nonetheless. It is not ridiculous to say that Haas could have at least had one Grand Slam final in 2009 had Federer not stood in his way.
Then again, a lack of success at the Slams is the second thing that could define Haas’s career. For a player who is clearly one of the most talented in the world and who has been towards the top of the rankings as much as he has, Haas does not have much to show for it in the way of Grand Slam success. He has reached semifinals in his 15+ years on tour, as well as 3 more quarterfinal appearances. It is sad that Haas seems to have been unable to compete at his highest level on the biggest stages, but that is exactly what separates the great talents from the all-time great players.
The final defining characteristic of Haas’s career, and this one could very well have strongly influenced the first two, is that it has been riddled with injuries. Twice, now, Haas has been out for over 12 months with an extended injury leave. Both of those times came when he seemed to be peaking—in 2003 and again in 2010. The 2003 injury began with a personal leave after a tragic accident that nearly claimed the lives of his parents. Before he could return to tennis from helping his family, he needed surgery on his shoulder and missed almost an entire year. Even though he has moved back towards the top of the game since then, he has never quite been the same. He had a 2-1 record against Federer before then but is only 1-9 since (though, to be fair, Federer had not quite hit his peak by that time).
His injury in 2010 came right after he seemed to hit his stride again. In the summer of 2009 he had nearly beaten Roger Federer at Roland Garros (and clay is Haas’s worst surface by far) and reached the semifinals of Wimbledon before, again, falling to Federer. He had an uneventful late summer of 2009 with respectable results. However, he had hip surgery in February of 2010 and missed over an entire year for the second time in his career.
Now, however, Haas is nearly 35 years old and is making his third run towards the top of the rankings. He has been in strong form since last summer and has the results to show for it. He just reached the top 20 after reaching the finals of the tournament in San Jose. He is the second-seed in Delray Beach this week and will have a chance in Indian Wells and Miami to really increase his ranking before the summer. I do not know how much longer Haas has in his career. He is playing very well and seems healthy, but as his career has shown things can change in an instant. This year may be his best, and last, chance to finally do something memorable at a Grand Slam or even a Masters. He is no longer one of the top few players in the world, but he does still have the talent to compete with anyone on any given day. There is still more to be written in the bittersweet story that is the career of Tommy Haas. But I do know that he has at least one more chance to cap it off with a happy ending.