Haas Solves Mahut To Reach Quarterfinals
-- Funny one
If late-arriving spectators to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic were to glance at Tommy Haas's match against Nicolas Mahut without knowledge of the score, they may have skipped a breath upon learning the outcome.
Haas, 6 feet 2, 200 pounds of unpredictability, continued his mercurial ways on William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center's center court yesterday afternoon during his 7-6, 6-3, second-round victory against his onetime nemesis from France. At various times, Haas screamed, smashed a ball into the stands and was booed -- all part of the spectacle that has made him one of the sport's most recognized personalities.
"They enjoy coming out to watch my game," Haas said. "There's usually something going on, if it's me screaming or sometimes seeing good tennis or sometimes poor tennis, whatever, it's always a good show to catch."
The show has reached the quarterfinals, making the fourth-seeded Haas a rare breed, given how upsets have scrambled the bracket's seeded players. Only top-seeded American Andy Roddick, who defeated Paraguay's Ramón Delgado in two sets, and second-seeded Juan Martín del Potro (who defeated American Jesse Levine in two sets) advanced beyond the first round.
"I think the level is just pretty equal, so everyone can beat everyone here," said Colombian Alejandro Falla, who advanced with a two-set victory over Frenchman Florent Serra and will play Haas in the quarterfinals. "The heat is also tougher for some people."
Haas recovered from a mid-set letdown to win the first. Assisted by a key break in the sixth game, Haas won that game and the next to take a 5-2 lead. However, the advantage was short-lived: Mahut used effective return play and held serve to tie Haas at 5. Haas won the 11th game, but Mahut claimed the 12th before the German won the tiebreaker, slamming a forehand along the right side of the court to punctuate an end to Mahut's threat.
Haas achieved a crucial break midway through the second set. Each player held serve through the first six games before Mahut returned serve into the net. Ahead 4-3, Haas won the next two games.
"It's feeling better," Haas said of his game. "I'm feeling pretty good from the baseline. When I do get my first serve in, I feel it's pretty good. [During] the returns today, I was seeing the ball pretty clearly."
The victory should help Haas in his attempt to crawl back from a career low. Entering this event, he was ranked No. 48, his lowest ATP ranking since Aug. 9, 2004. In May 2002, Haas became the world's second-ranked player after a strong 2001, during which he won four ATP championships, including his first ATP Masters title.
For Haas, Mahut had been particularly difficult to solve. Before yesterday, Mahut had beaten Haas in both hard-court meetings, needing only two sets in each (2006 in Indianapolis and 2007 in Bangkok).
With Mahut's hex lifted, Haas celebrated. After he claimed the final point, Haas waved to the crowd, his hat off and matted black hair cooling in the early evening breeze. He slipped the racket into a black and white equipment bag and gripped three yellow tennis balls, teasing eager fans with a faint twinge of his left wrist. Then, he lightly tapped each into the stands.
"I was looking forward to it, definitely," he said. "I was really looking forward to the match."