His message read: “A very loud ‘Thank you’ 39 times to Wimbledon for giving me the opportunity to compete at the championships.”
The 39 referred to the German’s age, and after a remarkable 21 years on the professional tour, 2017 marks his swansong: He retires at the end of the season.
But perhaps he should have used the number 60, for that will be the number of Grand Slams he has played by the time he reaches London, a tournament where he made the semi-finals in 2009.
By all the laws of tennis, he should have played many more than 60, but Haas’s career has been a seesawing battle against injury, surgery, personal sacrifice and more surgery.
Two broken ankles, a bulging disc in his back, an accident that almost claimed the lives of his parents, then major shoulder surgery, wrist injury, hip surgery and, a month later, elbow surgery, but the tall German with the feisty on-court persona, beautiful single-handed backhand and cheekbones to die for has continued to defy the odds.
His ranking has seesawed with his fortunes, from No2 in 2002 to 388 a year later and on past 1,000 by the following year.
By early 2005 he was back to No14, and down to 46 by the end of the year. He broke the top 10 at the start of 2007, slipped to 87 in 2009, and during 2010 veered from 17 to 371. The climb back from 896 began again in 2011 and by mid 2013, he was in with an outside chance of qualifying for the World Tour Finals. Along the way, he had picked up ATP Comeback Player of the Year twice.
At Rotterdam the following spring, he talked of giving himself a shot at the season’s finale one last time. By the end of 2014, however, he had undergone more shoulder surgery, and then just over a year ago, he also had toe surgery.
Sure enough, the outer reaches of 1,000+ beckoned again, which is precisely where he began this valedictory season.
The wins this year, not surprisingly, have been hard to come by, though his victory over friend Roger Federer in Stuttgart last week had daughter Valentina on her feet cheering. Here in Halle, however, the two-time home champion left with her weeping in his arms after a first-round—and last-time—loss.
There are likely to be more tears come Wimbledon, but many smiles too, as one of the sport’s most dedicated competitors plays his last. Perhaps Wimbledon will do him one more favour, and offer up Centre Court, where that same friend Federer denied him at one match short of the final.
The All England Club guidelines state that Wild Cards are “usually offered on the basis of past performance at Wimbledon or to increase British interest.”
Haas, aside from the sentimental gesture, fulfils the former. So does the exciting 18-year-old Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, winner of the junior Wimbledon title last year who has, incidentally, beaten Briton Kyle Edmund in the first round of the Aegon Championships at Queen’s this week.
The bulk of the remainder fulfil the latter, with seven awards in the singles main draws, including the long-time injured Laura Robson, who has been working her way back to form via ITF tournaments this year. She beat fellow Brit Wild Card Katie Boulter in Kurume just last month.
Heather Watson also made a good run at the Surbiton ITF a fortnight ago, but it did not garner enough points to earn direct entry to Wimbledon.
In the qualifying tournament, Marcus Willis, who made such an impression at Wimbledon last year, has been given direct entry after playing pre-qualifying in 2016. The Briton won six matches just to make the main draw, where, ranked 772, he beat No54 Ricardas Berankis to set a dream match against Roger Federer. He lost, but both he and Federer had a ball.
This year, Willis has also been awarded a wild card direct to the doubles main draw.
Tommy Haas, Denis Shapovalov, Brydan Klein, Cameron Norrie, James Ward + three
Zarina Diyas, Naomi Broady, Heather Watson, Laura Robson, Katie Boulter + three
Jay Clarke/Marcus Willis, Brydan Klein/Joe Salisbury, Ken Skupski/Neal Skupski + four
Katie Boulter/Katie Swan, Naomi Broady/Heather Watson, Harriet Dart/Katy Dunne, Jocelyn Rae/ Laura Robson + three
Liam Broady, Jay Clarke, Edward Corrie, Lloyd Glasspool, Marcus Willis + four
Freya Christie, Harriet Dart, Katy Dunne, Anastasia Potapova, Katie Swan, Gabriella Taylor + two
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
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