Longevity has become something of a hot-topic in recent times on the ATP Tour. After all, with Djokovic and Murray approaching 30, and Federer and Nadal undergoing a renaissance, how could it not? Yet if there’s one man who exemplifies persevering into old age, you’d have to look a lot lower in the rankings – approximately 650 spots lower, that is – to the one, the only, Tommy Haas.
To say Tommy Haas has had a rollercoaster of a career would be an undue compliment to rollercoasters. Since debuting on the tour in 1996, Haas has gone from the heights of being a world no. 2 and major semi-finalist, to enduring the lows of personal tragedy, myriad injuries and back to the top again. Repeatedly. They say cats have nine lives, but Haas’ tennis career is on its tenth, and this latest comeback at age 39 might be the best one yet.
After losing to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first round in Vienna in 2015, Haas proceeded to take all of 2016 off, sidelined by toe surgery that supposedly closed the book on an already remarkable, if underrated career. Indeed, by June he looked to be finally done as a player, taking up the job of tournament director for Indian Wells. No one foresaw his name being in the draw for the 2017 Australian Open, but there it was, Haas poised for one final go-around – his 21st, meaning Haas has been on tour longer than German successor Alexander Zverev has been alive.
Since returning he has only gone 2-5, those wins coming last week in Houston against 19-year-old (!) Reilly Opelka and this week against Benoit Paire in Monte Carlo. Certainly not the most impressive of records, but that was never the point for Haas.
Father to a 6-year-old daughter, Haas made it clear his comeback was made with the intention of giving her a lasting memory of watching him play, and to that end 2017 has already been an unqualified success. It only helps that Haas plays a highly entertaining brand of old-man tennis.
Whether in the wins against Opelka and Paire, or the tight three-set losses to Jack Sock and Tomas Berdych, Haas continues to be a tough out for anybody. He knows the days where he could blow anyone off the court are long gone, but even in old-age his exceptional feel and guile haven’t left him, and that keeps him in with a chance. He is still able to keep himself in rallies, making use of depth and redirection to set up the occasional attacking opportunity, and possesses a drop shot that is downright filthy. His down-the-line single-handed backhand is still a thing of beauty, and it remains clear that despite all the injury and hardship Haas has endured, he is still an exceptional talent – as long as he’s kept away from a microphone.
Of course, this final iteration of Haas isn’t going to challenge for slams (or any title, realistically), but sometimes even professional tennis isn’t about winning. In Haas is a man who dresses like he’s 19, outplays 27-year-olds , and yet is nearly 40. As an added bonus, his wife Sara Foster is easily the best player spouse since Li Na’s partner Jiang Shan – although where Shan was known for being the punching bag, Foster is known for dishing out the punches. He may not have ever won a major, but he’s earned this victory lap regardless. It will be a shame when he finally sheathes the racquet – probably at the end of this year, but maybe in 2027. After all, it’s Tommy Haas, you can never count him out.