By John Delong
(Editor’s Note: This is one in a series of updates about players who either played in last year’s Winston-Salem Open or have committed to play in this year’s tournament.)
Tommy Haas is, quite simply, the most heartwarming story on the ATP World Tour this year.
At age 35, the German who now resides in Los Angeles is turning back the clock with a run of success that has vaulted him all the way to No. 11 in the current ATP rankings.
He was named the ATP World Tour’s Comeback Player of the Year last year (for the second time in his career) when he re-entered the Top 100 after being shelved following shoulder and hip surgeries. This year, he has continued to skyrocket up the rankings with his 14th career ATP World Tour singles title in Munich and a trip to the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
Haas was one of the first players to commit to this year’s WSO, which is scheduled for Aug. 18-24 at the Wake Forest Tennis Center.
"I feel like I’m riding a wave that I hope to continue as long as I can," Haas said while at Roland Garros.
WSO tournament director Bill Oakes marvels at Haas’ recent success and says Haas will prove to be one of the most popular players in the WSO field.
"The resurgence of Tommy Haas has been a pleasure to watch," Oakes said. "When I found out he was interested in playing Winston-Salem, it took me all of one minute to realize we should find a way to bring him to the Triad. Tommy continues to amaze. Watching him play over the last year has been so much fun. I cannot help but wonder how long he will play. Til 40?"
Haas made a name for himself long ago, of course.
The Bollettieri product first cracked the Top Ten back in 2001, when he won four tournaments. In 2002, he reached a career-high No. 2 in the rankings and was poised to overtake No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt when his parents were involved in a motorcycle accident that left his father in a coma. Haas dropped off the tour to take care of his parents at that point, also underwent shoulder surgery, and missed all of 2003. He was ranked No. 1086 when he returned in 2004.
Haas won two tournaments in 2004 and three in 2006, but it took until 2007 for Haas to crack the Top 10 again. He remained a top player until the fourth and fifth surgeries of his career shelved him again from February of 2010 until June of 2011. When the second comeback started, he was ranked No. 896.
Again he climbed up the rankings and found the winner’s circle again at Halle last year, eventually finishing 2012 ranked No. 21. And the rise has continued this year, thanks to his win in Munich and his deep run at Roland Garros.
Included in his wins at Roland Garros was a 7-5, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-7 (10), 10-8 win over two-time defending Winston-Salem Open champion John Isner in the third round, when he couldn’t convert on 12 match points in the fourth set but then rallied from a break down in the fifth.
"It would have been easy to throw in the white towel and say, ‘I’m done, I have achieved a lot of things, I don’t really have to worry so much financially and I can live a good life,’" Haas said. "But at the same time maybe there was something in me still that said, ‘You know what? I can maybe still do something.’ I’m really happy I made that choice.
"It’s the most enjoyable time of my career now, that’s for sure. I won’t be doing this for another five to 10 years. At the time when I was playing some of my best tennis back at the end of ‘01 and the year of ‘02, I was at my peak. At 23, 24, I was looking ahead a few years to achieve what goals you have. Now, I’m happy to still be part of it, happy to be on big stages and happy to be playing the best players in the world. And maybe occasionally having a chance to win. It’s been a great ride."
Besides his win at Munich and his trip to the Roland Garros quarterfinals, Haas has reached the finals at San Jose (lost to Raonic), the semifinals at Miami and Delray Beach, and the fourth round at Indian Wells this year. He played doubles with Roger Federer this week in Halle in what Federer jokingly referred to as a pairing of "dinosaurs," but the two lost in the first round.
"I really don’t have any rankings goals anymore," he said. "I just want to enjoy the moment of going out on the court, in front of a crowd, and have that feeling of a little pressure and wanting to win. It’s a special feeling that I don’t have in any other part of my life really. Going on the court and trying to win or trying to do well in certain situations is a feeling you can’t get any other way. It’s quite a privilege to have that feeling."