Haas’s Comeback Trail Leads Straight to Federer
WIMBLEDON, England — The bad spell has finally been broken for Tommy Haas at Wimbledon. Facing two match points in near darkness against Marin Cilic of Croatia in the third round, Haas, one of the game’s most versatile talents, came up with ways to save them both on Court 1, then come back the next day, Saturday, and finish the job.
In the same place on Wednesday for the quarterfinals, Haas found himself down, 3-6, in the second-set tie breaker against fourth-seeded Novak Djokovic of Serbia, only to come up with ways to win the next five points and take a commanding lead.
Haas eventually closed out his 7-5, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3 upset and claimed his first spot in the Wimbledon semifinals at the advanced tennis age of 31.
“You never know what’s around the corner for you if you keep believing and keep fighting,” said Haas, a German who has long lived and trained in the United States. “Who would have thought I’d be in the semifinals here at this stage of my career?”
It is certainly no surprise to see Haas’s next opponent, Roger Federer, still in contention at this stage. On Wednesday, Federer defused Ivo Karlovic in straight sets and improved on one of the most phenomenal records in tennis by reaching the semifinals of his 21st consecutive Grand Slam tournament. The closest men to him are Ivan Lendl and Rod Laver, whose streaks did not go past 10.
“I’m really proud of this streak because it’s not going to be easy to beat it,” Federer said.
That is an understatement. “I just don’t see it happening,” said John McEnroe, the former Wimbledon champion, commenting on the BBC.
Clearly comfortable in his skin and even more at ease behind the baseline, Federer has swept through the draw at the All England Club with the loss of only one set. He is on such a roll that he even managed to break Karlovic’s mammoth serve in only his second attempt Wednesday.
Karlovic, the 6-foot-10 Croat, had not lost his serve on grass yet this year, not at Queen’s Club and not at Wimbledon. But Federer can do things with a few flicks of his wrist that are well out of reach of most men, and he rode the momentum generated by that early break to an impressive 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory.
That was no great surprise to Karlovic, who has lost 9 of 10 matches against Federer. “I mean, he’s maybe the best player ever, but on the grass, he’s, you know, by far the best, I think,” Karlovic said.
That is debatable, considering that Pete Sampras won seven Wimbledon singles titles and Federer is still holding at five. But Federer is within close range of breaking Sampras’s record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles, which Federer tied last month with his emotional and unexpected victory at the French Open.
“It’s not there yet, still far away,” Federer said. “Many points, many serves, many forehands. We’ll see.”
Haas, with a 2-9 record against Federer, will be a heavy underdog in Friday’s semifinals.
In the other semifinal, the Scotsman Andy Murray, who eliminated the Spanish veteran Juan Carlos Ferrero, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 , will face Andy Roddick, a 6-3, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-4 winner over Lleyton Hewitt, the 2002 Wimbledon champion from Australia.
“If you would have told me two years ago that ‘You can’t play him in the fourth round but you’ll be able to play him two years from now in the semifinals,’ I would have said, ‘Fine,’ ” Haas said of meeting Federer. “It was a tough injury I had here, but life is crazy and this sport is crazy.”
Haas has had other problems at Wimbledon through the years: in 2002 he withdrew after his parents were involved in a major motorcycle accident; in 2005, he injured himself after stepping on a ball while warming up and retired before the second round.
“There’s a lot of bad luck involved,” Haas said. “I always felt like, deep down, Wimbledon will maybe still have something left for me. It better come up soon, because I’m not getting any younger.”
Haas and the 27-year-old Federer are on friendly terms, communicating in German or, more often, English. But each has dealt big emotional blows to the other on the tennis court. At the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Haas defeated Federer in straight sets in the semifinals and Federer ended up with no medal.
Haas, the son of a tennis coach, left Germany at age 13 to train at Nick Bollettieri’s tennis academy in Bradenton, Fla. Haas reached No. 2 in the world in 2002, but with the summit in view he was hurled back to base camp by a career-threatening rotator cuff problem, which required two operations and forced him to miss the 2003 season. But though Haas worked his way back into the top 10 in recent years, the big, defining title has never come. He remains a remarkable, crowd-pleasing talent with a flashy one-handed backhand and a wide range of tactical options, but he has been a serial supporting actor, just as he was at the French Open this year when he was ahead by two sets to love on Federer in the fourth round with a break point to go up, 5-3, in the third set.
Instead, Federer hit the shot of the tournament: an inside-out forehand winner from an extreme position that set him on course for a five-set comeback and the only major title he lacked.
“For me that would have been a great success, beating Roger,” Haas said. “It’s in the past. It’s done. But being a friend of his and knowing how much it meant to him winning the French Open, I’m happy he made that shot.”