The Best Story in the Sport

Munich, Final

(3) Haas d. (4) Kohlschreiber, 6/3 7/6

Tommy Haas on Sunday won Munich’s BMW Open, defeating local favourite and defending champion Philipp Kohlschreiber in eighty-three minutes, and providing a measure of hope to thirty-somethings everywhere that an ATP title remains within reach.

Endeavouring, as ever, to surge ahead of the field, I had actually kicked off my campaign for a maiden title the day before, on Saturday. I am thirty-seven, only two years older than the evergreen Haas, and blithely figured it is never too late. I was officially in training. It is now Monday, and I can just about lift my right arm higher than my shoulder without the whole assemblage feeling like it’s going to come apart. I have also gained a newfound appreciation for the phrase ‘wave your arms in the arm like you just don’t care’. Haas Munich 2013 -7Previously I’d always associated elevated hand-waving with disputes involving Mediterranean men or flagging down passing rescue planes, but I can now see how it might indicate a certain unhinged insouciance. Oh, to be so carefree. Anyway, my point is that an ATP title might be some way off. Actually, that’s not true. My real point is that I am astonished that Haas can go on winning these things.

He has become just the fourth man over thirty-five to win a title in the last three decades, joining Andre Agassi, Fabrice Santoro and Jimmy Connors, an august assembly that I look forward to joining. It is also the first time Haas has won a title on European clay. His only previous claycourt title came at Houston, which is played on brown dirt hosed down with used laundry water. Indeed, here’s a curious stat: Haas maintains dual-citizenship of Germany and the USA, and hasn’t won a title outside those two countries since 2001. In fact, even his most recent runner-up efforts were in San Jose, Washington and Hamburg. His only Masters title came in Stuttgart. (This suggests that my first title will probably come in Australia. I’m a Queenslander by birth, so Brisbane would seem a good fit. But I also live in Melbourne, so I’d be doing myself a disservice to rule out the Australian Open, although winning seven best-of-five matches might conceivably tax my shoulder, assuming I was granted a wildcard. Auspiciously, the last time a local won the Australian Open – Mark Edmondson – was the year I was born.)

Haas’ victory in the Munich final was reasonably straightforward, with breaks coming well into the first set and immediately in the second, separated by a restrained fist pump and the requisite shirt-change. Complications arose as he served for the title, and was broken back in a hail of double faults and some typically brazen shotmaking from Kohlschreiber. They ably navigated their way to the tiebreaker, but from there Haas once again assumed control. Both produced their share of winners – it was precisely the kind of aggressive all-court match I most appreciate, and I won’t pretend both players don’t number among my favourites – but in the end Haas was steadier when it mattered.

Kohlschreiber as ever landed an absurd proportion of first serves, something like eighty per cent in that first set. But Haas used his own serve more effectively, prising open the court, controlling the baseline, then hustling the smaller man back and across with superior weight of shot. Kohlschreiber can produce tremendous power given his size, but too often in the groundstroke exchanges he was unable to wrest away the initiative, or to maintain it once he did. From there he was generally the first to execute a shot that would decide the point either way; the Bavarian is adept at many things on a tennis court, but patience is not among his virtues. It’s tempting to believe that his extended semifinal victory against Daniel Brands the day before played its part, causing not weariness but the pre-emptive recklessness that comes from rationing a dwindling supply of energy. Then again, it is fool’s errand to look for more reasons why Kohlschreiber might play recklessly. He rarely plays any other way, and as ever it’s thrilling to watch a man sprint along a tightrope. It will always inspire a measure of envy in those of us, earthbound, who habitually face-plant on the sidewalk.

Upon clinching the title, Haas collapsed onto his back, spreadeagled on the European clay. He first reached the final in Munich thirteen years ago, in 2000, when he lost to Franco Squillari, and he today conceded that it was a title he’d always hoped to win before the end. He certainly looked pleased. In addition to a pile of money, he was also given the white BMW Z4 sDrive 28i that’s been lurking in the corner of Munich’s Centre Court all week. Last year in Vienna the ATP celebrated his five hundredth tour victory by giving him a Fiat 500, with his name boldly stencilled on the bonnet, an addition that will undoubtedly affect its resale value. Thank heavens this latest prize didn’t have anything embarrassing written on it. There was of course a trophy, whimsical after the German fashion. It looked as ever like an Employee of the Month award doled out by a large automotive corporation.

Haas was also granted 250 ranking points, which propelled him up to a lofty number thirteen in the world. Last year he was denied a wildcard into Roland Garros, and was obliged to qualify. This year he will boast an encouragingly high seeding, although just how high will depend on his performances in Madrid and Rome, where he has nothing to defend. The top ten isn’t beyond question. As far as I’m concerned, Tommy Haas remains the best story in the sport, at least until I win the Australian Open.

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