Tennis, as far as 2012 is concerned, hasn’t really been short on surprises. There have been players who have come of age, just as there have been players who have announced their decision to step back from the sport. A few players, however, lie somewhere in the middle of these two polar sides, for neither did they newly break into the tennis ranks nor did they display any intention of quitting the game for good. Instead, they made resilient and well-justified attempts to regain lost ground and re-conquer all that they had lost; lost, due to no errors on their part.
Rightfully classed as the ‘Comeback Players of 2012’, these sportsmen left a huge impact on the 2012 tennis season. At times, it almost felt as though they had never left the tour in the first place. Lleyton Hewitt put his health issues behind him as he came up with an inspired act that helped him reach the final at Newport, while Brian Baker produced a sublime return to form after an injury-afflicted gap of more than six years. Paul-Henri Mathieu, who had tumbled out of the top 100 in the rankings, fought through a marathon (which ended 18-16 in the fifth) against John Isner in the French Open third round which set many precedents, and Sam Querrey came back from the wilderness with a consistency that was as remarkable as it was inspiring.
But no one did the comeback act better than Tommy Haas. The German, who had once reached as high as the stars in terms of rankings and performance domination, became a shadow of what he once was as injuries – one after another – took a toll on his body and career. And though glimpses of his former self were often visible, those glimpses were so far and few in between that by the time one could applaud one great performance from him, an equally great loss would lessen its significance. 2012, however, was different from Haas’s previous years’ fluctuating performance; in 2012, Haas was able to hold on to his own, playing with an invigorated ferocity not rivaled by many.
Called by many as Haas’ third rite of passage on the tennis field, the 2012 season richly rewarded Haas for his solid performances with a title at Halle – his 13th overall – and two impressive finals’ standings at Washington and Hamburg, along with a massive leg-up in the rankings, propelling him from somewhere in the 200s to right within the top-20 bracket.
A comeback, it is said, is possible only if a player is determined. But the age factor can cause a serious dent in even the most determined player’s comeback attempt. While trying to make a successful comeback may indeed prove fruitful for a youngster, the odds reduce narrowly for a 34-year old man, who had already tried to mount a comeback twice before, only to be foiled, albeit narrowly, both times. After seeing and experiencing severe disappointments first-hand, over and over again, not many have the courage or inclination to try and change things for the better. It’s not a defeatist attitude; it’s an attitude of survival because sometimes trying could mean absolute futility, and no one likes to fail. But there are some who keep at it, trying to find that unique source of motivation to fulfill their career aims and enrich their professional life, whether it is the second – or as in Haas’ case, the third time.
Speaking to ATP’s Deuce magazine soon after the birth of his daughter, Haas had remarked how his daughter’s birth had given him one more reason to start afresh on the tennis circuit. He made quite good on this claim in 2012, and the tangibility of his efforts has been more than proof that determination and hard work never go in vain.
2012 is not the end of the road for Haas, but the start of yet another journey, this time perhaps a decisive and long-winding one. Comparisons have been made between Haas’s newfound mojo and the late-career revival of Andre Agassi – at times even by the German himself. But Haas’s individuality in his resurgence trumps any talk of similarities with the eight-time Grand Slam champion, thus validating the significance of his comeback saga among both generic tennis lovers and his fans.
Catch the rest of the awards here: 2012 Tennis Awards