- Kamakshi Tandon
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In tennis, there's always a lookout for players on the rise. How about someone outside the top 100 just 10 weeks ago who is now closing in on the top 20? In those 10 weeks, he's reached the third round of the French Open as a qualifier, won Halle (defeating Roger Federer in the final), made the finals at Hamburg and Washington and reached the quarterfinals of the Toronto Masters (taking Novak Djokovic to three sets).
Who is this new, young phenomenon? Well, he's not new, and he's hardly young. He's 34-year-old Tommy Haas, whose unexpected resurgence has become one of the stories of the summer. It's not just that he's doing it at 34, 10 years after reaching a career-high ranking of No. 2. He's doing it when it would be easy to retire and spend time at home with his fiancée, actress Sara Foster, and their 21-month-old daughter, Valentina. And he's doing it after seven surgeries, most recently on his knee and elbow in 2010.
Who saw this coming? Not Haas.
"I won't lie. In some ways it's very surprising," said Haas, who's ranked No. 23. "But at the same time, it's a feeling of a lot of satisfaction.
"Once the year is done, I'm sure I'm going to look back and just be like, 'Holy s---. What kind of year did I have, out of nowhere really?'
"Six, nine months ago I was having different thoughts and just waiting and seeing how this year was going to go. I have a family of my own now as well, and if it wasn't going to go as planned with injuries or if I'm not going to catch up anymore, who knows what I was going to do."
After playing sparingly since his return to the tour in 2011, Haas' run began when he reached the semifinals in his birthplace of Munich in May and continued in front of German crowds later in the summer at Halle, Stuttgart and Hamburg. It sometimes also doubled as a family vacation, with Haas getting to show his daughter some of the places he grew up. He has said one of his goals is to keep playing until Valentina is old enough to remember seeing him compete.
His first-round exit at Wimbledon was a disappointment, as was not getting nominated for a wild card into the Olympics, but he continued his success in his adopted nation -- Haas became an American citizen in 2010 -- and will try to keep it going in the Western and Southern Masters in Cincinnati this week. It will be a bit of a bonus because he was ranked too low to get in when the cutoff was made and then had his wild-card request turned down, but he got into the main draw anyway thanks to withdrawals.
That means a chance to get closer to another goal, that of reaching 500 career wins. He's at 495 after last week. In a strange twist, Haas will open against David Nalbandian, who was also his opponent in the first round of Toronto last week. Then again, he's getting used to déjà vu. He's rediscovered his vintage flair and shot-making and has somehow managed to stay relatively injury-free.
His fitness was on display during back-to-back weeks in Washington and Toronto. "Due to ups and downs, and injuries, I've gained a few kilos here and there," he said. "It takes me longer to get rid of those the older I'm getting, but now I'm back at a weight I'm really happy about."
Yet Haas accepts that his days of being a Grand Slam contender are likely over. He is perhaps one of the best players never to have reached a final, and last week he spoke touchingly of the window of opportunity that got away.
"Certainly was always my goal to try to win one of those when I was a kid. But, you know, it wasn't to be that way," he said. "Starting in 2002 I started having shoulder problems, but I did get to No. 2 that year. Then my parents had a bad motorcycle accident and I didn't get to play Wimbledon that year when I should have been seeded 3 there. [Lleyton] Hewitt won, and Nalbandian reached the final, so you could also play actually from the baseline.
"I felt like I had a great year, but I had shoulder surgery and was gone 15, 16 months. That changed a lot in my career. And then after that when I came back, that was sort of the Federer, start of his dominance, you know."
Perhaps his best chance came in the 2002 Australian Open, when he led Marat Safin by two sets to one in the semifinals before rain forced a break for the roof to close.
"Yeah, that was maybe a good chance for me that year," Haas said. "I made a mistake by getting stretched or lying down a little bit, and when I came back on the court 30, 40 minutes later, I had no legs left. It was really strange. But, you know, that's the way it was.
"You know, obviously I think every player, when you're young you have goals and dreams of winning the Slams. For some it [happens] and for some it doesn't.
"At the same time, all of us that are playing on the tour, you know, we're living the dream of being professional tennis players, and that's pretty cool as well."
Haas continues to live that dream, and now he is in the midst of a summer he never dreamed of.
Tommy Haas dreamed of winning a Grand Slam. That'll likely never happen, but he's having a summer to be proud of.