By Nicholas McCarvel
At 34, Tommy Haas is the oldest player in the men’s top 50, a mainstay in tennis for nearly 15 years. The German native reached the No. 2 ranking back in 2002, and started the 2013 season inside the top 25. With two BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals under his belt – in 2007 and 2008 – Haas has also registered impressive wins at Indian Wells over Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick, Gustavo Kuerten and Andy Murray.
We caught up with the father of a 2-year-old daughter named Valentina on what keeps him motivated, his love for the California desert and his tennis-playing with tournament owner Larry Ellison.
BNPPO: Hi Tommy! Thanks for taking the time to talk with our fans. So, we’re curious: What do you enjoy most about the BNP Paribas Open?
Tommy Haas: For me it’s one of the best tournaments to go to all year long. From the weather to the number of practice courts to how well the players are treated, there really is nothing you can say about the tournament that isn’t good. The other thing that I love is that if you don’t play on stadium court and you’re on any other match court, you still have Hawk Eye and the challenge system.
I love that it’s close to Los Angeles, as well. I have a lot of family and friends there now who can come out and support and watch me. I love being there.
BNPPO: You reached the No.2 ranking in 2002 – over ten years ago! What motivates you to keep going in 2013?
Haas: I have a two-year-old daughter and I would love for her to see what her dad is really doing on a competitive level. I think I would have to play for the rest of at least this year for her to realize and remember it. She’s 26 months old, so if I can play until October or November, then maybe she can remember it. Or, if I continue to play in 2014, that would be the ultimate goal. But it’s also to keep surprising myself, to keep showing myself what I can do, what I can achieve.
BNPPO: Wow, that’s very inspiring! But on a competitive level, do you still have the desire to win a Slam?
Haas: That’s everyone’s goal, everyone’s desire from a young age. To make that happen is a huge effort, and while it’s never impossible, it’s a very tough task. It’s still something I long for and wish would happen. I’m just trying to become a better player every day, every week. I’m putting in all the hard work to see what kind of results come out of it. Anything is possible. You just never stop competing.
BNPPO: You’ve played some tennis before with tournament owner Larry Ellison. How was that?
Haas: Well, I consider myself really lucky to know Larry the way that I do. It’s pretty special for me. He’s done so much for the game of tennis and as a player I really appreciate that. I remember a few years ago when he bought the tournament and the land there and he’s investing more and more in it. He’s done well to make sure there is Hawk Eye on the match courts and he told me recently they’re building a new stadium there. Someone who loves tennis so much and has ability to do so many things with that – that’s awesome. I’ve hit with him a couple of times and I enjoy not only talking to someone who is intelligent and interesting but has a great sense of humor, too.
BNPPO: Did you give him any tennis tips? And did he give you any business advice?
Haas: Well, we chatted about so many things: cars, movies, business, tennis. It’s hard to give him any tennis advice because he loves the sport so much and is such a fanatic that I sometimes feel like he knows the sport much better than I do. [Laughs.]
Read more about Haas including his reaction to Roddick’s retirement, his yoga practice and what support from his fans mean to him AFTER THE JUMP.
BNPPO: Between 2000 and 2002, both you and fellow German Nicolas Kiefer were top 5 players. Does that seem like a lifetime ago now?
Haas: Well, yes and no. Time goes by pretty fast. I played in Auckland earlier this season and the last time I played there was the year 2000. Nicolas and I started pretty young and in 1996 and 1997 we made a name for ourselves and two years later we both had a breakout year. The game has changed a lot since. I’m proud and happy to be playing and competing at a high level. Back in the late ’90s I figured when I was 30 I’d be looking into retirement, but now that [I’m past 30] I’m still playing and I’m really proud of that.
BNPPO: What about you and Nicolas. Do the two of you keep in touch?
Haas: A little, yes. We see each other every year at Halle when I play because he’s invited to come back as a former champion. He also had a daughter who is a little bit older than mine, so we keep in touch about that, too. But the distance is tough… he lives in Germany and I’m in the US, so it’s hard to keep up with the time difference.
BNPPO: Now that you’re a father, is there anything you don’t like about being a dad?
Haas: The only thing I don’t like is being away from my daughter.
BNPPO: Staying on the sentimental track, is there a special connection you have with other players of your “generation” like James Blake or Lleyton Hewitt who are still out there playing?
Haas: I think that those guys who have been out there fighting since the late 90s, struggling through injuries and still competing, I think deep down we really respect one another. We’re all still out there trying to go for glory and see what we can get, what we can achieve. There is a special sort of bond that are over their 30s, like Radek Stepanek who is my neighbor in Florida. He just turned 34 and before that became a Davis Cup champion. There is a lot of good tennis to be played from guys in their 30s.
BNPPO: How did you react to Andy Roddick’s retirement?
Haas: To be honest I was pretty surprised. He was playing some good tennis and definitely was one of the players who was such a good competitor out there on the court. He had such a consistency in his years of playing. I started thinking about it more and thought that perhaps deep down he just didn’t believe and didn’t think that he had one more Grand Slam or a big tournament in him. He’s easily someone that could still be up there in the rankings, but maybe he just wasn’t enjoying it anymore and maybe it was time for him to relax, not have to work so hard, play some golf, enjoy time with his wife and just be at home after traveling 34 weeks a year for so long.
BNPPO: What about traveling. What do you like most about it?
Haas: Going to the places that I love. There are so many favorite ones. There are still so many places I’d like to go to, as well. There are so many cities that I just love visiting no matter what. Vienna, Munich, Paris… it’s a never-ending story.
BNPPO: Tell us about your yoga skills. We’ve heard you’re an at-home yogi.
Haas: Well, I do it sometimes, but not that much. My fiancée and her sister do it a lot, so sometimes I join in. But, I’m not the most flexible person in the world so sometimes I feel like an idiot trying to get into the positions that they want me to do, so I just go back to the gym and get stronger there. It’s a tough workout, though. It helps you with strength and flexibility and it’s really good for your mind and breathing, just to relax. It can do soothing. If you do it in a group of people that you like, it can be really fun. When I join in, I just hope they aren’t doing too many positions that I can’t even do. [Laughs.]
BNPPO: What’s your favorite court to play on in the world?
Haas: There are so many stadiums that are just so nice. One of my favorites is Centre Court at Wimbledon. The one in New York – Arthur Ashe Stadium – is humongous and is one of my favorites. And Rod Laver Arena is great. And you have so many other tournaments, Indian Wells included, that just have these really special venues that we get to play in.
BNPPO: What about the crowd support over the years for you? Has that been motivating?
Haas: Whenever I play in Germany, especially, the support is tremendous. Throughout my career at different times it’s given me different feelings: sometimes it’s made me nervous or motivated me more, especially playing Davis Cup in front of a home crowd. It is something special. When you look back at the fans’ appreciation, it makes it very fun. Sport would be nothing without the fans, and at the end of the day we would be playing with no one watching. We probably wouldn’t enjoy it all.
BNPPO: Long live the sport fan! OK, we have a more introspective question: How do you define yourself? Who is Tommy Haas?
Haas: That’s a question to ask the people who are around me a lot, I think. I’m pretty passionate about life, but pretty easy going away from the courts and pretty humble and appreciative of what I have and just trying to enjoy the life that I have.
BNPPO: Who do you think will end up the best of this generation: Federer, Rafael Nadal, Murray or Novak Djokovic?
Haas: Well I think they’re a part of a different generation, those three compared to Roger as he’s six or seven years older than them. But if you look at it right now, Roger has the records and the Grand Slam wins. We’ll have to see what the guys do once Roger decides not to play anymore. Who else might rise up and challenge them. This is the toughest generation right now to be playing with Murray, Nadal and Djokovic all coming up in my eyes. But right now, the edge goes to Roger.
BNPPO: Interesting. And what about in the rest of 2013, what do you think will happen in the top?
Haas: This year is going to be very exciting. It’s unfortunate that Nadal is still injured. Everyone misses him. We can’t wait for him to be back. But Novak has been so good and now Murray has a Slam and Ivan Lendl in his corner. And he can definitely win more Grand Slams.
BNPPO: As you can tell by our questions, sometimes our thoughts are pretty random. What’s the most random thing you’ve ever thought of during a match?
Haas: Oh my God I don’t know if I want to get into that. [Laughing.] There are so many crazy things you think of while you’re playing. I’m not the most relaxed person on court so when I start rushing my mind can wander. Or I’ve thought of how I wish I could be invincible to finally beat someone or perhaps that I need to book a flight if I’m losing. And then, you go right back to the point and you play a good one and you forget it. You don’t have anyone to talk to or a partner to lift you up. It’s a tricky game.
BNPPO: Have you ever played with someone half your age? You’re 34 now, so it could happen.
Haas: Well, not in a match. I did in practice at the Hopman Cup with one guy who was 16 [Thanasi Kokkinakis.] He got to play a few matches there. A couple of weeks ago I played Bernard Tomic and he’s only 20. But 17 could happen maybe this year. It’ll be funny when it does.
BNPPO: Speaking of funny, let’s go into that category to close things out. What gig would you want most: hosting Saturday Night Live, being a local weatherman or an anchor on SportsCenter?
Haas: Being a SportsCenter anchor would be pretty fun. I love sports, so that would come a little more naturally to me. Going on SNL would be a little more tricky, especially in front of a live audience. You leave that to the professionals! Talking about sports and sitting back and reading headlines would be much easier. That could be fun.
BNPPO: SportsCenter it is! Thanks, Tommy! And good luck at the BNP Paribas Open.
WATCH: Highlights of Haas’ quarterfinal loss to Murray at Indian Wells, the Brit winning 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (8).