Haas returns after over a year-long break
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Despite Tommy Haas' first-round loss to Guillermo Canas at the NASDAQ-100 Open on Friday, things are finally looking up for the German.
"Coming back today felt pretty good," Haas said. "I thought I played some pretty good tennis and just came up short."
Everything was going Haas' way at the start of 2002, and he wouldn't have thought an injury would keep him from competing for more than a year. On May 18, he achieved a career-high No. 2 ranking. After reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open and the fourth round of the French Open, he was looking toward Wimbledon when a phone call on June 8 changed his life.
His parents were in a motorcycle accident in Florida, where Haas has lived since age 11. Neither parent had worn a helmet. His mother's injuries weren't as bad as those of his father, Peter, who was in a coma for three weeks.
There was no way Haas would attend Wimbledon.
Even before the family crisis, Haas' success had the unfortunate effect of causing him shoulder inflamation. But he returned for the summer hard court season fit and still playing well.
Then in December, as he began to prepare for the 2003 season, problems arose again.
"I was serving, heard a little pop in the shoulder," Haas said. "I just basically yelled at everybody and flew up to a specialist in New York, took an MRI. (He) just told me that my subscapular tendon was 95 percent torn. That was basically surgery time."
Marat Safin said it's difficult for any player to remain healthy and stay on top of the game.
"Tommy Haas, he was out for one year and a half because of the schedule, because of the level of the game, and because it's really competitive. You have to give every time 100 percent. If you don't give 100 percent, you are out."
Haas ended up having a second surgery in July to eliminate scar tissue, thereby missing the entire 2003 season.
After each surgery, he was forced to keep his arm immobilized in a sling. The man who used to enjoy driving fast cars was stuck at home.
"Basically, I was just gaining weight at the beginning," Haas said. "I just watched myself getting heavier and gaining more weight."
In April and May of 2003, he began training in hopes of returning to the ATP Tour in June. At the end of July, he got the bad news that he had to have surgery again. After that, it was basically the same story: immobilization and inactivity.
Once the arm could be moved, he took trips, though he was only able to go on weekends in order to keep up his therapy. He did things he didn't have the chance to do while playing tennis, like attending concerts and going to shows in Las Vegas. He was at the Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. had his first, emotional win there.
"I went to Germany for a couple of weeks to see my family and do some therapy over there just to switch it up," he said. "Because staying in one place for too long, especially for me, drives me a little crazy."
Haas likes to be on the move, although he says driving fast no longer appeals to him.
"To be honest, I'm tired of having a fast car here in the States because you never get to use it," Haas said. "You look more in the rearview mirror and all over the place if you drive, and you're going a little bit over the speed limit. You know, you don't focus on driving. You just focus on looking for cops. And that's no fun."
Fun is something Haas always brought to the court, and not just in his bold play. He was the first man to attempt to wear sleeveless shirts in competition, though he was told to change.
He lacks the patience for such arbitrary rules, but patience is something he has been forced to learn.
"Patience isn't really one of my strengths," Haas said last week at Indian Wells. "I had to work on that a lot as well. Being away 15, 16 months from the sport, not being able to play match, not being able to do what you want to do, it's really hard."
Difficult conditions, high winds and rain, kept Canas and Haas from finishing their match late Thursday night.
"Certainly doesn't suit my game really well," Haas said. "I already have to fight with so many other things, you know, to just play my best game at the moment and then also fighting against very windy conditions, it's quite hard."
Things went better in the sunshine Friday afternoon. Haas served strong, and his shoulder held up. He forced a tiebreak in which he showed flashes of brilliance before failing to convert on set point. The good news is that most of the errors he made could be attributed to a lack of match play. In four tournaments back, he advanced past the first round in only one -- the fourth round of Indian Wells.
Not a bad beginning.
"I'm really glad the shoulder is holding up," Haas said. "I'm starting to serve much better again. I don't really have much pain in my shoulder. Sometimes it gets a little bit sore, a little bit tired, you know, but I can live with that.
"It's not going to come overnight, but look at me maybe in four to six months again and we can talk about it."
His parents were here this week in hopes of seeing him play, but the schedule didn't allow them to. His father has recovered as much as possible.
"His leg is pretty messed up, but you know he's trying to do the best with it," Haas said. "Other than that, mentally he's doing pretty good and trying to stay positive."
Haas travels next to Sarasota, Fla., before heading to Germany the following week for Davis Cup.
"I look back where I was," he said, "and where I am today, and I'm really happy and thankful."
Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.