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Tommy Haas turns back the clock, upsets Novak Djokovic at Key Biscayne

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Tommy Haas took advantage of cold temperatures and a renewed confidence to defeat Novak Djokovic in straight sets. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Tommy Haas took advantage of cold temperatures and a renewed confidence to defeat Novak Djokovic in straight sets. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Tommy Haas pulled off the upset of the 2013 season on Tuesday night, ousting two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic 6-2, 6-4 in the fourth round of the Sony Open.

Just a week shy of his 35th birthday, Haas notched his second career win over a No. 1 player and became the oldest man to defeat a top-ranked player in 30 years. It was the earliest loss for Djokovic at an outdoor hard-court tournament since Olivier Rochus beat him in the first round of Miami in 2010.

Here are three thoughts on Haas’ victory:

Haas used the cold conditions to his advantage: When umpire Mohamed Lahyani comes out on court in a jacket and gloves and the entire Djokovic entourage is wearing puffy, insulated jackets, you know it’s cold. The chilly conditions played perfectly into Haas’ game plan as he used his backhand slice with tremendous effectiveness and kept Djokovic off balance all night. The conditions meant the balls stayed lower, and with Haas’ ability to hit his beautiful one-handed backhand flat down the line, Djokovic was left digging balls out of the court or trying to redirect his pace. The first set was vintage Haas, who hadn’t played a match this well in years.

“I had a good game plan,” Haas said. “Conditions favored me a little bit with the game that I played against him. It was tough out there with the swirling wind.”

Once Haas pocketed the first set easily, Djokovic kicked into survival mode. He was under pressure on almost every service game in the second set and fought off break points with some gutsy serving and with a little help from Haas, who missed badly on some second-serve returns. The match looked like it was going to flip midway through the second set after Djokovic won 11 straight points to get a break back and hold for 3-3. But Haas’ confidence, built up over the last year, then came into play. Haas settled down, got the break he needed at 4-4 and then served out the match with ease.

Djokovic played horribly: Not taking anything away from Haas, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Djokovic was beyond bad. He hit 30 unforced errors to just seven winners, with 19 of those errors coming off his forehand. Rally after rally broke down thanks to that struggling forehand, and his footwork wasn’t sharp all night. Was it the cold conditions? Haas’ level? A bad day at the office? Probably all of the above.

“All the credit to him,” Djokovic said after the match. “He played a great match and he was the better player, no question about it. The results show everything. It’s definitely the worst match I have played in a long time.

“There are days where you just don’t feel good on the court. Nothing really goes your way. This is one of those days. But all the credit to him for making me play this bad.”

The feel-good story of the year so far: A year ago, Haas was barely a blip on the radar screen. Ranked No. 145 then, Haas has spent the last year raising his ranking the hard way, at a time when it would have been easy to just call it quits. The talented German, who peaked at No. 2 in 2002, has endured a career defined by ill-timed injuries. But after the birth of his daughter, Valentina, with his wife, actress Sara Foster, Haas wanted nothing more than to be able to compete long enough for Valentina to be able to see him play.

“Somewhere in the middle of last year, sometime in April, May, my body sort of adjusted a lot, got better, and I could train,” Haas said. “If you can’t train and put in the hard yards in this sport anymore, you’re not going to get far.  You know, not at least to the point where maybe you have a chance against a top player. From experience, luckily I know that, and luckily I’m a guy that likes to work out and gets in the best shape that I can possibly can, my body allowing.”

Thus began 12 months of playing qualification tournaments to get into draws and battling other journeymen outside of the spotlight. The hard work paid off. He scored four top-10 victories last year and won two titles, including the grass court title in Halle, where he beat Roger Federer in the final in straight sets. By October, he had cracked the top 20. Now he’s on the verge of the top 15. Oh, and 2-year-old Valentina has been courtside all week, with pacifier in mouth.

“These are the moments I appreciate the most, going on those big stadiums, big stages, playing against the best people in the world,” Haas said. “Playing against something like Novak and coming out on top at this time of my career, it’s unbelievable. It goes up as one of my most best wins of my career.”

Haas will play Gilles Simon in the quarterfinals.

  • Published On Mar 27, 2013
  • 13 comments
    Lee M1
    Lee M1

    Tennis has become a physical fitness battle. At the moment Djokovic sits at the top. As a thirty five year coach, I admire his tenacity. At the same time, I do not see what we historically have considered artistic aspects to his game. In today's genre he ranks supreme. Federer clearly has the best game for the eye. It would be truly great to see both players at peak condition. Unfortunately, we have a slowly declining Federer as the younger Djokovic rises.  I maintain that variety at its peak will defeat brute force. 

    TennisHack
    TennisHack

    One more note...I don't think Novak likes the idea of being the first number one player in 30 years to lose to the oldest player in the top 50...

     

    but who knows. I was expecting Del Potro to go deep. Not. Or Tsonga to go deep. Not. Now Novak. Maybe putting in an appearance after Rafa and Roger walked (and the two biggest attractions in the sport) was in the cards...

     

    After all, these are human beings and not machines...

    TennisHack
    TennisHack

    I think that Haas won the match. He pull some moves off at the net that more often or not Novak would of won. Secondly if anybody has been following Haas since last summer....Haas has been winning some huge matches.

    And his play and confidence are on the rise...now...we're talking three setters...grand slams at 35 may be a whole other conversation.

    Commonsense85
    Commonsense85

    30 unforced errors. Did Hass make Djokovic look bad or did Djokovic make Hass look good by tanking this mandatory tournament. When was the last time Novak played this poorly.

    hihat123
    hihat123

    Even the BEST in the world have a bad day!

    Vinny Cordoba
    Vinny Cordoba

    Really happy to see this Haas win/Djokovic loss. Haas served very well and executed his game plan to perfection. His comeback has been amazing.

    AshMessenger
    AshMessenger

    Tommy may have made ugly sartorial choices,  but he made beautiful shot choices a few hundred times tonight.  In the process he gave today's number one player a lesson in all-court, artistic tennis.  Let's face it, Djokovic is really a grinder, not an artist.  The sport is worse for the mind-numbing rallies of today's mainstream tennis pros.  Open stance forehands, two handers and let's see who can outlast whom.  It's dull, prosaic tennis.  Give us Federer, Gasquet, Haas, Dimitrov, Dolgopolov and Tomic.  Artists all.  Creative comes to mind.  There is rarely, if ever, a truly artistic moment with supremely fit Djokovic.  Just proof that grinders can get somewhere, in tennis as in life.  But, they are never the innovators, the ones who move life forward.  Grinders mark time and nothing else.  Human advancement and civilization are in dire need of artistry.

    Commonsense85
    Commonsense85

    @Lee M1 I disagree. Think Sampras, a brute force game and as dominate a player as Djokovic.

    Commonsense85
    Commonsense85

    @hihat123 True, just not this bad of a day. Djokovic wanted/needed time off.

    hihat123
    hihat123

     @AshMessenger

     I think you need to re-evaluate & replay the last 2 years of tennis.  Djokovic is the epitome of strategy, strength, and resilience.  That's truly needed for human advancement and civilization.

    Commonsense85
    Commonsense85

    @AshMessenger I was rooting for Haas but this victory seems hollow. You cannot seriously think that Haas is the better player. It's not close.

    usable.thought
    usable.thought

     @AshMessenger I agree that Djokovic's game isn't beautiful - but as Federer himself said, winning is what counts, not pretty strokes. Beyond that I think you're wrong about Djokovic being merely a grinder and not an innovator. His extreme style of movement; his ability to play offensive shots off that open-stance backhand when stretched wide; these & other aspects of his play have raised the bar for the men's game to a new level the past few years. You don't have to be a fan of the guy to admire what he's done.

    AshMessenger
    AshMessenger

     @hihat123  @AshMessenger Djokovic is very very good, but he's not an innovator, and for me anyway, he's not an artist, although he's a supremely fit and talented athlete.  It's a personal preference.  And I do believe that the artists are the innovators in any field.  I see Federer, Leconte, Kvitova, Gasquet and Dimitrov as artists, regardless of their win-loss records.  I truly appreciate the strength and stamina of Nole and Rafa, but those endless long rallies on slow courts hold little interest for me, in part because all of the surfaces are slow today.  If the courts were more varied, I might find the grinding style more interesting, because it would not be the same story week after week.  The ITF and the USTA slowed everything down, influencing all of the venues to do so.  A bad decision, because it favors one style of play over the huge variety that we had years ago, with hard outdoor, rubberized outdoor, carpet indoor, red clay, gray clay, grass.  That variety would force everyone to become adept at more surfaces.  So, my complaint is less about Novak and company.  Ultimately, the slow surfaces are numbing.  Different strokes for different blokes.