Kamakshi Tandon blogging from the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells
IW: Tommy Run
He's a little bruised and battered, but still around, hanging tough. Few players on tour have had as many stops and starts as Tommy Haas, and yet here he still is, taking down one of the new guard's best and brightest to reach the quarterfinals.
Even leaving aside last year's bizarre poisoning scare, Haas has physically had a tough time. He broke both his ankles at separate times as a teenager and has repeatedly been hit with ankle injuries, including a freak accident at Wimbledon in 2005 when he stepped on a ball during the warm-up before his first-round match. But it's his shoulder that's given him the most serious problems -- he had two surgeries on it in 2003 and one late last year. When his persona life makes news it usually involves a glamorous girlfriend or celebrity pal, but things took a very serious turn in 2002 when his parents were badly hurt in a motorcycle accident.
Yet somehow the former No. 2 has battled back each time, slowly working his back up to the top 20 following every setback. His looks may evoke the lead character in some ancient legend, but by nature Haas doesn't seem cut out for this kind of Sisyphean drudgery.
When returning players are asked what they missed while off the tour, they often say the competition. In some ways it seems like a bloodthirsty answer. Why not playing full-time again, being at tournaments again, etc.? But ultimately what it means is that they missed playing matches.
And that, after all, is what tennis players do. You play matches, and try to win them so you can play more. An injury is just another opponent who must be defeated in order to keep playing.
Victory can be sweet. "Playing a great week until now and hopefully more, it's worth going through a lot of pain," said Haas before his match against Murray, reflecting on his setbacks. "In some ways you have to look at that and be pretty proud of it. I mean, yeah, it's been incredible."
But even if it's instinctive drive rather than conscious purpose pushing him to keep going, it's still something to admire. And it's paid off handsomely this week, as Haas has picked off both red-hot Andys over the past week, beating Roddick in the second round and now Murray to reach the quarterfinals. He's also posted wins over Julien Benneteau and Fernando Verdasco.
Having made his comeback a few weeks ago in Delray Beach, Haas is still feeling the after-effects of the surgery. Right now, however, it seems to be helping him concentrate on the task at hand to save himself wear and tear. "For me, every day is just important to feel kind of healthy and going out there and hit my shots and hit my serves without feeling anything in my shoulder," he said. "You know, I need to keep telling myself that that's really the most important thing for me."
That's probably what he'll end up telling himself after his next match against Roger Federer, who looked sharp defeating Ivan Ljubicic on Wednesday night -- and then stuck around for the little on-court birthday ceremony for Ljubcic afterwards. "It was sort of old times, you know," said Federer about the way he managed to handle Ljubcic's big serve. "I felt like nothing could get past me, and this is exactly how I want to feel this week."
Ominous words for Haas, even though the two have had their battles in years long past.
But even if the runs ends here, he's proven he's no Haas-been. The comeback trail looks like it'll head back into the top 20 once more, even though this is likely to be his trip up this road. Haas turns 30 next month, so there won't really be another opportunity to start from scratch. It's all about riding this shoulder repair job as far as he can before it breaks down again.
"You know, I've done it before, and I guess that helps me a lot mentally," he said. "Like I said, as long as my shoulder stays strong and I don't feel too much pain, I can go out there and compete and I can be tough.
There have been a few odd symmetries for Haas this week -- the most noted has been the fact that he's now working with Dean Goldfine, who used to coach Haas' second-round victim, Roddick. But today's match against Murray was an even better twist, because it was against Murray in the quarterfinals last year that Haas played -- and lost -- the tournament's most eventful match (see here).
"It's nice to get your revenge back at the same place, pretty much. It took a year for us to go back and battle at it again. It was another great match, very exciting, and just came down to a few big points here and there," said Haas. "You know, I saved a lot of break points in the third, and so did he, and, you know, I came up with the goods at the right time, which was great."
Afterwards, Murray revealed that earlier this week, he had for the first time had a dream about winning a Grand Slam. "I woke up few hours later and I was unbelievably disappointed," he said.
You wonder: does Haas still have such dreams?