Happy Father’s Day to Tommy Haas
June 17, 2012 · Print This Article
by: Rob York
The problems of a young man, even those who don’t work in sports or entertainment, are typically inflated in his own mind. The setbacks he may encounter in his early 20s typically involve not succeeding at work to the degree he had hoped, some dissatisfaction in his personal relationships and the struggle to achieve the respect he feels he deserves.
Over time he hopes these battles will gradually turn more and more in his favor, not knowing that increased age only raises the stakes. Before long, he won’t be fighting to achieve success for himself alone, but in order to pay for the food, shelter and education his children need, even as every minute worked overtime competes for moments he could use to nurture his relationship with his wife. Meanwhile, the feats his body once achieved easily become more difficult, and some become off-limits entirely, while his parents, the foundations that have supported him for so many years, become frail and in need of support themselves.
For any man who knows these struggles, the victory of Tommy Haas at Halle this weekend has a special resonance. Haas, who turned 34 in April, is more than three years older than Roger Federer, who himself continues to battle the top players in the game as well as persistent questions about his own age. As I’m 32, seeing a player older than me win titles is becoming exceedingly rare, and before much longer will be non-existent.
Haas is also someone I’ve gotten to watch as he grew, emerging as a prodigy in the late-‘90s, struggling to maintain consistent results, then finally turning into one of the game’s top players at the end of 2001. In the latter half of that year and beginning of ‘02, he began to post victories over the players as highly regarded as Federer, Lleyton Hewitt and Pete Sampras, winning his first Master’s Shield, reaching the semis of a major and being viewed as a threat to bag a Slam and reach No. 1.
That he never achieved those things could be seen as a disappointment, as he never got past No. 2, and still has yet to even reach the final Sunday of a major. From mid-’02 onward, though, Haas has probably had a fuller idea of how much success in sports really matters. That was the year that Haas’ parents suffered a severe car accident, one which left his father in a coma, causing him to miss two months on tour (including Wimbledon). Thankfully they recovered, but Haas’ position in the game never really would.
His shoulder, that frailest intersection of bones, tendons and ligaments, fell apart, leaving him out of action for all of 2003. By 2004 he was already a veteran on the comeback trail, and as the game fell under the domination of muscular baseliners with brutal groundstrokes, Haas’ lean all-court game and beautiful one-handed backhand were reaping fewer rewards.
All of which serves to make Haas’ continued successes cause for celebration. In 2009, at age 31 he ended a two and a half-year title drought to capture his first Halle title, giving him one grass win to go with his one clay and 10 hard court titles. Suddenly grass appeared to the venue most rewarding of his game’s classical leanings and most forgiving of his aging physique; he followed up that result by reaching the semis of Wimbledon, topping Marin Cilic and Novak Djokovic along the way. It took none other than Federer, just two days before his coronation as the all-time Grand Slam king, to put an end to his run.
Haas’ injuries were unimpressed with his results, though, and returned to bar him from action the following winter. For the second time in his career, Haas would miss more than a year, spending February 2010 to May 2011 recovering from shoulder and hip problems. But much as age teaches a young man that problems can get much, much bigger, it also teaches him how superficial and short-term his former triumphs were: Haas and his wife had their first daughter near the end of 2010.
Now Haas, who has played long enough to see men younger than him, such as Marat Safin retire, plays with a new goal: He wants his daughter to see him in action before he leaves the game. This weekend brought an encouraging sign, as he captured the Halle event for the second time, his first tournament title since his victory there in 2009, and his first victory over The Great Swiss Federer in a decade.
How appropriate that his win came on Father’s Day.
Happy Father’s Day to Tommy Haas, and to all men everywhere who’ve learned to work for something bigger than themselves.