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Tommy Haas speaks about his career, Indian Wells 2021 & Big 3, says he'd never count out Federer but Djokovic has time on his side

Tommy Haas at the BMW Open in Munich, Germany in May 2017
Tommy Haas at the BMW Open in Munich, Germany in May 2017
FEATURED COLUMNIST
Modified 06 Mar 2021
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Tommy Haas needs no introduction to tennis fans. A former World No. 2, a 15-time ATP title winner, a silver medallist at the 2000 Summer Olympics, and a multiple Grand Slam semifinalist - Haas has pretty covered the whole gamut of tennis accomplishments.

The German was also sometimes called 'Unbreakable', given how he repeatedly came back from serious, potentially career-ending injuries. Haas officially retired from tennis in 2018 after his body could fight no more, but he continues to remain actively involved in the sport.

The 42-year-old is currently the Tournament Director (a position he has held since 2016) of the Indian Wells Masters, an event often called the 'fifth Slam' of the tennis calendar. In a recent exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Tommy Haas spoke at length about his post-retirement activity in general, and the Indian Wells event in particular.

Haas also talked about Roger Federer's comeback to the tour after a year-long absence, Novak Djokovic's recent Australian Open win, and the ‘Greatest of All Time’ (GOAT) debate in both men's and women's tennis. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Sportskeeda: You had an incredible time on the ATP tour, reaching the World No. 2 ranking and winning numerous titles despite a whole host of injuries. What you look back at your career, what do you consider to be your proudest achievements?

Tommy Haas: There are so many moments over my career that I am proud of now when I look back. At the time, you always remember what you could have done better - won more matches or tournaments or things like that. But now, there are so many moments that I look back at fondly - winning Halle twice as well as Stuttgart in front of a home crowd; reaching the No. 2 ranking in 2002; representing my country and capturing a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics.

Even things that are challenging to go through at the time, like all of the injuries and surgeries, now I can look back and be proud of how I bounced back and never stopped fighting. (That's) a great lesson I try to impart to my two daughters.

SK: The Indian Wells event was cancelled last year due to the pandemic, and the 2021 edition has also been postponed as of now. There have, however, been some reports that the tournament could be held in the September-October window. Can you share with us the current status of the tournament, and how hopeful you are that it will go ahead this year?

Dominic Thiem hoisting the trophy at Indian Wells 2019, with Tournament Director Tommy Haas (R) looking on
Dominic Thiem hoisting the trophy at Indian Wells 2019, with Tournament Director Tommy Haas (R) looking on

Tommy Haas: We are of course disappointed that the event will not be held in March as originally planned. But we are proactively working with the ATP and WTA tours as well as title sponsor BNP Paribas to explore options to hold the event later in the year. We look forward to sharing additional information as and when we are able to.

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SK: Have you ever considered taking on the role of coaching or mentoring any player currently on tour? Would you be open to it if the right opportunity came along?

Tommy Haas: I’m always open to exploring opportunities to help younger players, whether it is in an official coaching role or a mentoring capacity. I worked with Lucas Pouille for a while during the 2018 season and enjoyed that experience quite a bit.

It was very interesting for me to get a different perspective on the game, and it's certainly something I’d be open to in the right capacity, with everything else I have going on.

SK: Novak Djokovic just won his 18th Grand Slam title, amidst some very challenging circumstances in Australia. How would you rate his performance at this year's Australian Open, and how do you think it sets him up for the rest of the year?

Tommy Haas: There’s no doubt that Novak Djokovic is playing at an extremely high level, and that makes him tough for anyone to beat. Even with the unfortunate injury, he was still able to walk away with the trophy, and that has to give him a lot of confidence going into Miami - another tournament where he’s had a lot of success over the years.

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It will be interesting to see how the rest of the season shakes out - with Novak Djokovic playing at his best, Roger Federer returning, and of course Rafael Nadal going for yet another title at Roland Garros and looking to pass Federer for most Grand Slams overall.

SK: Which of the Big 3 do you think will end up with the most Slams by the end of their careers?

Tommy Haas: It’s really impossible to predict how the rest of their respective careers will play out. Certainly Roger Federer has the toughest path to winning another Major, but I would never count him out, particularly at Wimbledon.

Novak Djokovic has time on his side, being the youngest of the three and still playing some of the best tennis of his career. And Rafael Nadal could win French Opens for who knows how many more years?

SK: You have been good friends with Roger Federer for several years now. How do you assess his chances at the big events in 2021, once he is back on the tour?

Roger Federer with Tommy Haas at the BNP Paribas Open in March 2017
Roger Federer with Tommy Haas at the BNP Paribas Open in March 2017
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Tommy Haas: We all can’t wait for Roger Federer to be back on tour competing, as I am certain he is very much looking forward to it himself. And I think at this point in his career, he wouldn’t get back out there unless he thought he truly had a chance to compete for titles and win.

I think he’ll be selective about his schedule, but if he is healthy come Wimbledon, the Olympics and the US Open, I would never count him out.

SK: Speaking of Federer and GOAT candidates, who do you think is the GOAT in women's tennis?

Tommy Haas: To me, it has to be Serena Williams. To do what she has done at such an incredibly high level for so long, during one of the most competitive eras in the game, it has been incredible to watch and just incredible for the sport overall.

Serena Williams at the 2021 Australian Open
Serena Williams at the 2021 Australian Open

SK: Alexander Zverev is the current German No. 1 on the men's side. He has been in the top 10 for a few years, but is yet to win a Grand Slam title. What are your views on his current game, and what do you think he needs to do to break through and win a Slam?

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Tommy Haas: Alexander Zverev is an impressive player who I definitely believe can win a Grand Slam title. I think his loss to Dominic Thiem at the US Open last fall gave him an important experience. Before long, it could be his turn to raise a trophy at a Slam.

SK: Besides the Big 3, which players do you think can win a Grand Slam in 2021? And which players, according to you, are likely to dominate the game after the Big 3 retire?

Tommy Haas: I think there are a number of players who could be in that conversation. Dominic Thiem, obviously, has shown himself capable by winning the US Open last year. Daniil Medvedev is certainly very close, having been to two finals already. And Alexander Zverev now has the experience as well on that stage after New York last year.

Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev - certainly they belong in the conversation as well. It will be exciting to see who steps up when opportunities present themselves, but I am looking forward to some very exciting years of tennis ahead of us.

SK: Have you had a chance to see some of the youngsters in the men's game today such as Jannik Sinner, Lorenzo Musetti and Carlos Alcaraz? What do you think of their game and their potential?

Tommy Haas: I think there is no doubt that the future of the sport is very bright. We’ve been so lucky for so many years to watch three of the greatest players to ever play the game, but I think recently we’ve seen that the sport will be in good hands even when they do retire.

These teenagers like Jannik Sinner, Lorenzo Musetti, Carlos Alcaraz are incredibly talented, and once they get some experience out on tour, I think they’ll be quite fun to watch for many, many years.

Published 06 Mar 2021, 01:04 IST
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