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|Tommy Haas gave it his all, but David Ferrer turned out to be too much.|
MIAMI -- For the longest time here at the Sony Open, Tommy Haas defied time.
It wasn't exactly 39-year-old Jimmy Connors' run to the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 1991, but Haas' romp through the field -- including his defeat of No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic -- was breathtaking to behold. Especially if you are on the north side of, say, 35.
As the No. 15 seed, the 34-year-old German clearly was the interloper in the men's semifinals on Friday. No. 3 David Ferrer, who himself turns 31 on Tuesday, remains one of the most relentlessly fit players on the ATP World Tour. It was only the fifth time two 30-somethings hooked up in a Masters 1000 semifinal in 23 years.
For the better part of three sets, Haas bravely fought off the ravaging effects of time. But serving at 3-4, he finally unraveled. Down 30-40, Haas' nerve, not his body, betrayed him. Haas double-faulted off the tape and the crowd around stadium court sighed and felt his profound pain.
Ferrer prevailed 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 and advanced to Easter Sunday's final opposite No. 2 seed Andy Murray. The strapping Scot dispatched Richard Gasquet in the second semifinal, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-2.
"I am in the final and very happy for that," Ferrer said. "The final of a Masters 1000 is going to be very difficult, no?
"I know that Tommy in the third set was a little bit more tired than me. I tried to fight every point."
Watching Haas play tennis, you almost find yourself waiting for the color to bleed out of the picture.
Haas, who will turn 35 on Wednesday, has a pleasing, old-school style to his game. He is one of only four top-20 players to hit a one-hand backhand; congratulate yourself, tennis fans, if you knew Roger Federer, Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet were the others. Haas slices that stroke as often as he hits topspin, a changeup in spin that keeps opponents off balance. The curved baseball cap worn backward also betrays him as a man of a certain age; kids are wearing them flat and forward these days.
It was the sliced backhand that scored Haas the first set, but Ferrer kept attacking. You got the idea that if Haas was going to win it would have to be in straight sets. When Ferrer cashed the second set, it seemed inevitable that he would ultimately run down Haas.
Strange, but in a total of 30 combined years as professionals, the two had met only twice, with the Spaniard winning both. Haas has one Masters title on his résumé, Stuttgart in 2001. That came relatively early in his career. Ferrer, who went 0-for-74 in Masters events to start his career, finally broke through last fall in Paris with his first and only title. Here is his chance for a second.
A year ago, Haas came to the Sony Open ranked No. 145. Now he leaves Miami with his first Masters semifinal in seven years and will rise to No. 14 in the rankings.
Afterward he was asked if this would be his last year as a professional, which, in the context of his recent success, seemed rather silly.
"No," said Haas, shaking his head. "Not to my knowledge."
Haas has said he'll keep playing until he's no longer viable in big matches like this one. Translation: Barring serious injury, he'll probably play at least through next year.
"In the end of the day, the most joyful time I have is when I'm on the court playing great tennis, entertaining the crowd, playing on the big stadiums," Haas said. "That's what you dream about when you're a young kid. For me still to be doing that at a high level and, you know, still at this time of my career, celebrating some of my biggest wins -- even like beating Novak here five nights ago -- it's fantastic."
In the evening match, Murray and Gasquet produced some sparkling, stylish tennis. After splitting four service breaks, they arrived at a first-set tiebreaker. Gasquet's first three points all came courtesy of Murray errors, but then the Frenchman created some space for himself. He served and half-volleyed, picking up a Murray return with a gorgeous backhand. A sweet forehand volley gave Gasquet control of the tiebreaker at 6-3 and he won it when Murray yanked a backhand wide.
Incensed, Murray won the second set 6-1. Gasquet called for the trainer, who treated what looked to be a blister.
Murray, who owns a condo in downtown Miami, broke Gasquet in three of four service games to put the match away.
"I didn't know what was bothering him, but in the third set he wasn't moving as well to his forehand side, so his tactics changed," Murray said.
Of the final against Ferrer, he said: "Tough match. He's an unbelievable competitor. We train together a lot, so we know each other very well. There will be a lot of long rallies."