Tennis (Life) Birthdays – April 3, 2019

Tommy Haas (GER), 41

The man’s career, now that it’s all said and done, is summed up by one word: injuries.

Every time he got going, some other body part would break.

Here’s a list of the former world No. 2’s surgeries (and we’re probably missing a few)

Dec. 20, 2002 – Right rotator cuff surgery
July 18, 2003 – Arthroscopic surgery on same shoulder
Nov. 2007 – shoulder surgery
Feb. 21, 2010 – Right hip surgery
Mar. 23, 2010 – Right elbow surgery (he was also rehabbing a knee injury)
June 17, 2014 – Arthroscopic surgery, right shoulder (Had retired from matches four times during the early season).
April 13, 2016 –  Surgery to repair torn ligament in his right foot 

And that’s not even counting the various other injuries that kept him out for various periods of time (he even had to retire from Wimbledon in the first round one year, and missed a month, after stepping on an errant ball in practice).

Things were finally going well for Tommy Haas at the 2014 Australian Open – he even, finally, had a clothing sponsor. Then, his shoulder acted up again. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Haas was a terrific story in 2013 –  the oldest guy in the top 20. He reached the quarterfinals or better in 11 tournaments, and won in Munich and Vienna.

But 2014 started terribly.

We watched him practice before the Australian Open started, and he was wincing and grabbing his right shoulder.

In the first round, he retired in the second set of his match against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Haas was out from the 2014 French Open until Stuttgart and Munich in June, 2015 – two tournaments in his native Germany. But by then, he was without a ranking again. After playing through Vienna in October – he was out another 13 months. 

Giving it one more shot, Haas went 5-13 during the 2017 season, posting some good wins (including over his pal Federer on grass in Stuttgart), He ended things in July, having squeezed back into the top 250, but no more.

Federer shocked by Haas in Stuttgart

Officially, he retired at Indian Wells in 2018, in his second year as the tournament director of the event.

He remains in that position – a pretty cushy job, given the near-unlimited resources at his disposal there. And given he’s still in fine nick, he can step in when there are unexpected withdrawals.

Haas

In 2017, he played an exhibition with Vasek Pospisil after Nick Kyrgios was a late withdrawal for his quarterfinal match against Roger Federer.

This year, when Rafael Nadal pulled out before his semifinal against Federer, he joined John McEnroe, Novak Djokovic and Pete Sampras in some fun doubles.

Haas makes retirement official

Haas peaked at No. 2 in the world what seems a century ago, but was actually in 2002. He won 15 singles titles and over $13 million. He was a silver medalist at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

Nicolas Escudé (FRA), 43

Escudé is one of the myriad of talented Frenchmen whose talent somehow never translated into big results.

Haas
(One of the best tennis pics ever – featuring  Escudé)

But he certainly had his share of highlight moments.

He hit the top 20 in 2000 (topping out at No. 17). And he made one of the great tennis photos of all time (at right).

Along the way, he reached the 1998 Australian Open semifinals (coming back from two sets to none down three times), the 1999 US Open quarters (out of the qualifying), and the 2001 Wimbledon quarterfinals.

He won Rotterdam in 2001 (over Federer in a third-set tiebreak) and again in 2002 (over Tim Henman in three sets).

Escudé posted an 18-5 career Davis Cup record (13-3 in singles) in 13 ties and was part of the winning 2001 squad.

He didn’t retire as much as fall right off the map.

Escudé won Doha in 2004, retired in his round-of-16 match at the French Open, didn’t play again until the Rogers Cup in Toronto that year, where he lost in the first round to Feliciano Lopez.

Tsonga-Escude-IW

And then he disappeared. He had shoulder surgery in September of that year, and never recovered.

Escudé officially announced his retirement before the 2006 French Open.

After his playing days, Escudé was captain of the French Fed Cup team before Amélie Mauresmo took over. That meant he has to deal with the likes of the fathers of Aravane Rezai and Marion Bartoli, and try to convince them all to get with the program.

It got fairly dramatic.

Escudé pretty much butchered the Rezai situation in 2012 during Fed Cup. And then pretty much admitted, without actually saying it, that he didn’t have a snowball-in-hell of a clue about how to deal with a women’s team.

It is not an unusual story with male Fed Cup captains. They take that job, but the one they really want is the Davis Cup captaincy.

But Escudé didn’t get it.

After Guy Forget retired from it, the job went to Arnaud Clément. And then to Yannick Noah. And then, to Sébastien Grosjean after Mauresmo had it, then gave it up to coach Lucas Pouille.

As a consolation prize, he was a co-coach with Thierry Ascione, working with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Nicolas Mahut. Escudé also coached Jérémy Chardy.

He also has been ambassador and tournament director for a couple of Challengers in France.

He’s an analyst on Eurosport.

All in all, he’s had a pretty fascinating life in the game.Tsonga-Escude-Oz

Sandrine Testud (FRA), 47

Her best Grand Slam results were quarter-finals at the U.S. Open and in Australia; she played in 43 consecutive Grand Slam events, which is a feat in itself.

Testud was top-10 in both singles and doubles in 2000, and was a stalwart on the French Fed Cup team.

Sandrine Testud_new

She retired in 2002 because she was pregnant (yes, she married her coach, Vittorio Magnelli).

Daughter Isabella was born in 2003. They live in Rome. 

Testud tried a comeback in 2004 mostly because she wanted to play the Olympics, which was not a success story on the level of Lindsay Davenport or the Belgians.

But on the plus side, she beat Monica Seles twice and Serena Williams three times in her career.

These days, Testud has embraced the seniors’ scene. She has played multiple times for France in the ITF world championships.

And she also has played often in the Roland Garros legends.

She still smacks the ball. 

The Brotherhood of the (Two) Traveling Lederhosen

Winning the ATP Tour event in Munich is good.

Getting a sweet ride – a BMW i8 roadster – is even better.

The only condition is … you’ve got to put on the lederhosen.

Germany’s Alexander Zverev knows the drill.

With a 6-3, 6-3 victory over two-time champion Philipp Kohlschreiber Sunday, he repeated as champion.

That means two vehicles – and another pair of lederhosen.

(FYI – the retail price of the car starts at … $163,300 US. You can add a $2,500 brake package and $6,300 laser headlights. At that point, might as well, right?)

Zverev lost the first set he played on the week, to countryman Yannick Hanfmann. But he wasn’t troubled the rest of the way. His four victories included an impressive 7-5, 6-2 dispatching of fellow youngster Hyeon Chung of Korea.

This time, the white one

lederhosen

It’s pretty much a first-world problem to already have one major sports car, so the biggest concern is not getting another one in the same colour.

Seriously, isn’t that annoying?

A year ago, the merchant of speed was black.

Fashion-forward in München

If you thought they just stored away the lederhosen for a year until the next edition of the tournament, think again.

Zverev now boasts two pairs, similar, but not identical.

lederhosen

The best part is how the winner did the quick-change right on the court before thousands of fans, and tournament director Patrick Kuhnen peeking over the makeshift change room.

lederhosen
(The on-court change room is a concept that has GOT to find more uses. It might save a lot of time on those endless bathroom breaks, allegedly for ‘change of attire’,and stop us from questioning the TRUE MOTIVES!)

The new tradition of the lederhosen began in 2015, when Andy Murray (who’d probably fancy a kilt, to be honest) needed three hours to defeat Kohlschreiber 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 7-6 (7-4) to win his first career clay-court title at age 27.

It was also the first clay-court title by a Brit in nearly 40 years. So it was certainly worth a pair of lederhosen.

He doesn’t look embarrassed in the least. Then again, he has posed in this

lederhosen
Andy Murray won it in 2015, inaugurating the very German tradition.

Kohlschreiber, who kind of looks a wee bit sheepish most of the time (that’s just his face), didn’t look sheepish at all when he posed for his trophy shot.

In fact, he looked very at home. He really could model in a lederhosen catalogue.

lederhosen
Philipp Kohlschreiber was spared the change of attire when he won it in 2012. But in 2015, when he repeated as champion, he was probably happy to put them on.

The legend of the lederhosen probably guarantees that Rafael Nadal will never play Munich.

NO chance he gets into those without splitting the seams .

Duelling lederhosen

But hmmmmm … Hold the phone.

Now, we’ll grant you it’s a small sample size. But it appears there are two different pairs of lederhosen. So they must rotate them.

But it appears they are indeed recycled.

You have to think they dry-clean them in between, right?

Next year, we suggest the full look – with suspenders. They’re on sale, too.

lederhosen

 

Federer shocked by Haas in Stuttgart

It was a shocker. Then again, on a few levels, it wasn’t.

After 10 weeks off the court, Roger Federer was beaten at the Mercedes Open in Stuttgart, Germany by longtime friend Tommy Haas 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4 in his first match back. It was his first on the grass courts, as well.

The author of the upset was as shocked as anyone, although perhaps less surprised than his friend Federer.

“Mainly pretty speechless of course. Playing Roger is always very special, especially on grass, especially here in Germany. Lot of emotions, never easy to play a close friend either. I think you could see both of our nerves playing a bit of a role,” Haas said during an on-court interview after the win.

It was the second straight year Federer had match point in Stuttgart, only to lose. The same thing happened in 2016 against Alexander Zverev.

“I thought it was a typical grass-court match today. Rallies weren’t very long and it was decided on a serve there or a return here. If you don’t take your chances like I didn’t, leading a set and a break, you really only have yourself to blame at the end. You have to acknowledge the fact that he was a bit better. It’s quite frustrating, but that’s the way it goes sometimes,” Federer told the media in Stuttgart. “I definitely was not as sharp as I was hoping to be in maybe the big moments, or the moment when I had the lead and where I feel I should have been cruising from that moment on.”

Memories of Phau

At No. 302, Haas is the lowest-ranked player to beat Federer since another German, Bjorn Phau, defeated him at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. all the way back in 1999. Phau was then ranked No. 407. 

Haas said there are a lot of factors that come into play in a match like this one that “only the insiders really know.”

“He hasn’t played a match in 10 weeks, and the first match is always the toughest. Deep within myself I thought I had a small chance. Normally I (wouldn’t) kind of really believe it,” Haas said. “To be honest, just coming out here playing great tennis, playing in front of my daughter. That’s really what it’s all about right now.”

Haas is playing Stuttgart for the last time. In on a wild card, he had already impressed in a first-round, three-set win over 26-year-old Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

Good start goes bad for Federer

The draw was a rough one for both. But Federer began as if he had been on the match court just last week. He cruised through the first set and broke Haas in the third game of the second set.

shocked
Haas’ daughter Valentina was ALL over Daddy’s win in Stuttgart Wednesday.

Through his career, Federer has always played these types of occasions like a Stradivarius.

He always knows exactly what city he’s in, and who he’s playing.

When he can, he’ll give it just enough against an inferior opponent to get the win. At the same time, he’ll always give the home crowd something to cheer about.

Federer didn’t have that kind of margin in this one.

Whether he took his foot off the gas after such a solid start is hard to know. Certainly he wouldn’t do it on purpose. But Haas put together a brilliant second set. He made very few errors, and he kept Federer pinned back in the court for a large part of it.

As well, Haas was unusually calm, cool and collected. Always a hothead, perhaps the presence of daughter Valentina made him resist the temptation to amp up the drama.

Still, Federer had a match point in the second-set tiebreak. He saved three set points against his serve – then coughed up his first double fault of the match on the fourth.

Weird things happening

Federer caught his toss before that second serve. That’s not something that happens every day. He also was successful on three Hawkeye challenges – also not an everyday occurrence.

shocked

After Haas broke to lead 3-2 in the third set, Federer looked rather annoyed. In the next game, after Haas went up 40-0, he turned on the machine a little bit and earned four break points. Haas saved all of them.

By 3-5, serving to stay in the match, Federer sort of threw the kitchen sink out onto the stadium court to see how it would work out. He serve-volleyed on a second serve on the first point. He serve-volleyed again at 15-all, on the first serve, but was easily passed by Haas’s cross-court forehand winner.

shocked
The shot selection by Federer on match point was emblematic of the need for more matches to sort out his grass-court game. (TennisTV)

The final point of the match was a perfect representation of the way Federer played this first grass-court effort of 2017.

Fielding a short ball on the backhand – a mishit from Haas – the right play call would have been to hit a short little slice crosscourt. Haas would have been nowhere near it.

Instead, Federer wound up and tried to hit a huge topspin backhand crosscourt for a winner. He missed by quite a bit, and the match went to Haas.

Grass tactics not quite on point

The takeaway from this first match is that the ultra-aggressive style Federer returned to the Tour with in January in Australia might not be quite as effective on the grass.

He came back from a six-month layoff hitting his topspin backhand as well as he ever has – and as often as he has, arguably, in his entire career.

But his slice remains a great shot when he uses it on offense. It’s particularly great on the grass, where it stays low, skids, and forces his opponent to hit up.

Until the third set Wednesday, the Swiss star wasn’t using it nearly as often as he probably should have. He might have been out of practice. Add in the first-match nerves Haas referenced, and Federer’s thinking might not have been as clear as it could have been.

Unfortunately, he won’t get any more practice this week in Stuttgart. Federer will have to wait until next week in Halle, Germany to get more match play. By that time, he’ll have huddled with his coaches and probably figured all that out.

At 39, Haas is the oldest ATP Tour quarter-finalist since Jimmy Connors accomplished that feat back in 1995. As it happens, it also happened in Germany, and on grass – in Halle. Connors was 42.

(Screenshots from TennisTV.com)

Haas to play BFF Federer in Stuttgart

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.

Haas
The feisty Valentina Haas, 6 1/2, is all over her daddy getting through his first-round match in Stuttgart. (TennisTV screenshot)

“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.

Haas

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.

HaasHaas 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)