The Stuttgart draw gods were both kind, and unkind, to 39-year-old Tommy Haas.
The German veteran, playing his final season on circuit after a star-crossed, injury-marred career, is saying goodbye to Stuttgart this week.
And his (possible) finale will come in his next match.
This one should fill the seats in Stuttgart, for sure.
Haas will play his very good friend Roger Federer, who returns to action this week and as the top seed, received a bye in the first round.
Haas pulled out a really tight one against talented grass-courter Pierre-Hugues Herbert 6-3 4-6, 7-5 Tuesday to advance.
The Frenchman is ranked No. 75 in singles, near his best. But as a doubles player on grass, he’s superb. He is the defending champion at Wimbledon with Nicolas Mahut. And Herbert and Mahut also are the two-time defending champions at Queen’s Club.
That was a tough first round. The next one will be even tougher. But these are the moments Haas (whose actual current ranking is No. 302, and therefore needs wild cards) is playing for.
“To play the next match against one of my closest friends, Roger, will be phenomenal. We’ve had a lot of great battles over the past. He’s always found over time just a few percentages here and there. He’s probably the best grass court player that we’ve ever seen and that I’ve ever played against,” Haas said in his on-court interview after the match.
“Just going to try to play at our best. I’m certainly going to have to try to take it up one notch to have a chance tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to it and you never know what’s going to happen.”
Father-daughter moments to cherish
Haas’ daughter, Valentina, arrived from Los Angeles Tuesday and was on hand to see the victory. That makes it all even sweeter. She’ll get an extra treat with the match against Federer.
Valentina is 6 1/2. Haas and wife Sara Foster also have daughter Josephine, who is 1 1/2.
With two such feisty parents, it’s no surprise Valentina was right in there as daddy closed out the win with a second serve that caused, as the saying goes, the chalk to fly up.
Haas has beaten Federer three times in their 16 meetings. It’s a lopsided number, as most head-to-heads are with Federer. But the vast majority of them have been close.
His last victory over Federer cam in the final of the Halle grass-court event in 2012 – a dream final for the organizers, for sure. The next year in Halle, they played in the semi-finals and Federer pulled off a three-set comeback win.
The two have played a pair of five-setters at the Australian Open. In the first one – all the way back in 2002 – Haas overcame a two-sets-to-one deficit to win 8-6 in the fifth. In the second, in 2006, Federer was up two sets to none before Haas pushed it to a fifth. Federer won that one.
They also went five sets in the fourth round of the 2009 French Open. There, Federer came back from a 0-2 sets deficit to win in five sets. He went on to take his only French Open title.
Great Stuttgart moment to come
So while it’s not been a hugely hyped rivalry, it’s been a good one whenever Haas has been healthy enough to play. With Federer in peak form this year, and Haas closing out his final chapter, it might not be the best tennis they’ve ever played. But there certainly will be a poignancy to it beyond the average second-round match at an ATP Tour event.
(Screenshots from TennisTV.com; Federer-Haas pic from the Stuttgart tournament Instagram)