Tommy Haas, the German who grew up on Florida’s west coast, stunned Novak Djokovic on a chilly Tuesday night on Key Biscayne by decisively outplaying the world No. 1 in straight sets, 6-2, 6-4 in the Sony Open.
Haas, who will turn 35 next week, became the oldest player to beat a world No. 1 in 30 years with a performance that was as near perfection as one can expect when competing against an opponent of such class.
“It was the worst match I have played in a long time,” Djokovic said. “But all credit to him for making me play so bad. I needed to make much less unforced errors against a quality player like Tommy. He played a great match.”
Haas, who has spent as much time in rehab for hip, wrist and other injuries since he rose to No. 2 in the world in May, 2002, as he has on court, was not happy with the weather forecast when he woke up in the morning.
“I thought it would not be great for me,” he said. “My body likes the heat. But it’s something you have no control over. You adjust with the racket tension and mentally prepare yourself."
By utilizing his innate skill and vast experience, it was Haas who froze Djokovic out of the match, forcing the Serb out of his comfort zone with carefully constructed points that frequently ended up at the net. Apart from one brief period when Haas made some unforced errors of his own, losing eight straight points to allow Djokovic to break back from 1-3 in the second set, it was the defending champion who was fretting about the cold and the bounce of the ball.
“The conditions were much, much different from what I had played in previous matches,” he said. “It was very cold. The balls didn’t bounce. He has quite flat shots and he used the variety really well. He used the serve well and moved around the court really well. I congratulate him. He was better.”
Having allowed Djokovic back into the match, Haas had a talk with himself at the changeover and told himself to keep it tight, try and hold for 4-4 and see what happened. Once again, he was able to slip back into his groove and, at 30-all, won a 25-shot rally made up almost exclusively of sliced backhands that eventually induced Djokovic to hit long. Novak had one chance to go ahead 5-4 when he reached game point but put a backhand into the net. When Haas reached break point, the Bradenton, Fla., resident proved his class once again.
Sweeping a big forehand cross court that landed smack on the sideline, the German raced to the net and produced a perfectly placed backhand volley winner. Serving for the match, he did not falter, despite going down 0-15. Two backhand winners gave him two match points and he seized the second with a winning forehand.
It was only the second time in his long and checkered career that Haas had beaten a world No. 1 and that had occurred back in 1999 when he defeated Andre Agassi in Munich in the Grand Slam Cup. A good win, no doubt, but the Grand Slam Cup was a political creation of the International Tennis Federation and was not part of the ATP tour. Not simply because of his age and the battles he has endured with fitness, this was a worthier triumph. And Haas seemed to understand that.
“I am really happy and proud to beat such a great player who has been dominating the sport the past couple of years,” he said. “I really took advantage of the opportunities I’ve gotten. I think I played extremely well. Playing against someone like Novak and coming out on top at this time in my career, it’s unbelievable. It goes up as one of the best wins of my career. I hope the fans enjoyed it.”
They might have been cold but the cheers that greeted Tommy’s triumph suggested they enjoyed every moment.