Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Haas, 37, reels in Rublev, 17, in Aptos Challenger

Tommy Haas, a former world No. 2, slugs a back-
hand in his win over Andrey Rublev, the world's
top junior last year. Photo by Paul Bauman
   APTOS, Calif. — The old man played by the sea.
   And very well.
   In a tantalizing first-round matchup, 37-year-old wild card Tommy Haas of Germany dismantled Russian sensation Andrey Rublev, who's 20 years younger, 6-4, 6-3 tonight in the $100,000 Comerica Bank Challenger.
    The match had the atmosphere of a final as an estimated 900 fans flocked to the 1,200-seat Center Court at the Seascape Sports Club, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean, to see former world No. 2 Haas face Rublev, the world's No. 1 junior last year.
   It was the biggest crowd on the Tuesday night since Michael Chang, who also peaked at No. 2, played in the tournament at the end of his career, according to Seascape owner Paul Kepler. The International Tennis Hall of Famer reached the Aptos semifinals in 1999, lost in the second round in 2002 and fell in the first round in 2003. 
   Haas, the runner-up in the final edition of the SAP Open an hour up the road in San Jose in 2013, needed only 71 minutes to dispatch Rublev. The players traded early breaks for 4-4 in the first set before Haas won six straight games to take control of the match played in cool weather.
   Haas' self-assessment afterward: "Different conditions, first time here, so overall, not too bad."
   Haas seems to have it all — talent out the wazoo, a longshoreman's work ethic, leading-man looks, a growing family, and residences in Bradenton, Fla., and Westwood in the Los Angeles area.
   He has reached the semifinals or quarterfinals at all four Grand Slam tournaments, captured 15 singles and seven doubles titles on the ATP World Tour, won an Olympic silver medal in singles, and amassed just over $13.2 million in prize money. He ended 2014 as one of seven active players with over 500 career match wins on the ATP circuit, the major leagues of men's tennis.
   Haas and his longtime fiancee, actress Sara Foster, have a daughter, Valentina, who will turn 5 in November and another child on the way.
   Haas, who moved to Bradenton at age 11 to attend the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, also has dual citizenship. He met the U.S. requirements in 2010.
   Alas, as if to prove that nobody can have everything, Haas has a fragile body. The right-hander has had numerous operations on his right shoulder, elbow and hip. He also has broken both ankles.
   Most recently, Haas underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in June 2014 in New York and missed one year. The Comerica Bank tournament is the sixth tournament of his latest comeback and his first Challenger since he reached the semifinals in Dallas in March 2012.
   Why endure another round of grueling rehabilitation, especially at an age when most players have retired?
   "Quite frankly because I was playing some really good tennis right before my surgery, beating (top-10) players like (Kei Nishikori) and (Stan) Wawrinka," Haas said. "I want to stop on my own terms, not because of an injury. I want to stop when I'm satisfied, when I feel like it's time to move on. Right now, I still don't feel that, even though there are times in the match where I do feel that.
   "I guess it's like an ambitious thing to try to see how good can I get one more time, how much can I get out of my shoulder one more time, and just compete and go out there and enjoy some of these last big tournaments." 
   Indeed, when you've performed at the tennis equivalent of Broadway for most of the past 20 years, it's difficult to play summer stock in the Berkshires.
   "I try not to think about that, to be honest," said Haas, whose ranking has plummeted to No. 523. "I just look at it as a practice match. I enjoyed it. It's a nice little stadium, and the crowd came out, which was great.
   "My mindset is just to come here and try to get as many matches in as possible to improve my game. All I have in my mind is to try to get better again, learn how to play matches, really. So I'm really happy I won today and get to play another day."        
   Haas, who next will meet sixth-seeded Matthew Ebden of Australia on Thursday, did have words with chair umpire Roger Pennington as Rublev served at 1-4, 15-0 in the second set. Pennington ruled that Rublev hit a first-serve winner, but Haas insisted to no avail that it was a let.
   "I know it was a let, he (Rublev) knows it was a let, they (the crowd) know it was a let. Everybody but you knows it was a let," Haas barked at Pennington.
Rublev displayed an explosive forehand against Haas.
Photo by Paul Bauman
   No matter. Rublev held serve, but Haas quickly closed out the match.
   It was apparent how Haas reached No. 2 in the world. He has a tremendous all-around game highlighted by a gorgeous one-handed backhand.
   Haas is big at 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) but very quick and in excellent shape. He repeatedly ran down Rublev's rockets into the corners, keeping the ball in play until the youngster made an error.
  Haas placed his serve well, hit deep groundstrokes and occasionally ventured to the net. He displayed power, touch, you name it.
   "He's still amazing at 37 years old," Rublev mumbled while looking down. "I wish him good luck."  
   Haas explained his longevity.
   "I'm a pretty hard worker," he said modestly. "Obviously, I've got some kind of talent to play this sport. I've been playing it for a long time, so I know what to do at certain times in many ways. It comes pretty natural to me, and I enjoy it.
   "Obviously, there are times when you have to go through a lot of ups and downs, and the road can be tough at times. You have to surround yourself with good people and a good team and enjoy it as well even though you have to go through very, very hard times. My family supports me, and they enjoy coming out every once in a while to some tournaments. My daughter is old enough now to sort of watch me play, which is a big motivation for me as well.
   "I just want to get as good as I can one more time. There's a lot of work to be done still, and we're looking forward to the challenge." 
   Rublev, rail thin at 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters) and 144 pounds (65 kilograms), is the youngest player in the top 200 at No. 195. His father, also Andrey, was a professional boxer, and his mother, Marina, coaches tennis.
   Rublev has an explosive forehand, a strong serve and a solid two-handed backhand.
   "I feel like he could be the next big Russian they're waiting for after (Yevgeny) Kafelnikov and (Marat) Safin," Haas said. "It's nice to see. He has some similarities to those guys — his forehand and backhand. He has a bright future. He's not afraid of really cracking the ball. If he keeps going like that, finds confidence and gets stronger, watch out."
  Could Rublev eventually crack the top 10?
  "It's maybe a little bit early to say," Haas said. "Give him another year or two to actually become a man and get strong. If he gains a little bit more weight and becomes a little bit stronger and uses the right shots, I think top 20 for sure."
   Notes — All eight seeds reached the second round, a rarity in professional tennis. The top two seeds and the only top-100 players in the tournament, No. 85 John Millman of Australia and No. 90 Malek Jaziri of Tunisia, won easily. ...
   No. 5 Taro Daniel of Japan beat qualifier Ze Zhang of China 7-6 (6), 6-2. The 22-year-old Daniel, who was born in New York and grew up in Japan, has strong ties to the Aptos area. His paternal grandparents have lived in Santa Cruz County for more than 50 years, and his American father, Paul, and Japanese mother, Yasue, recently moved to Soquel. ...
   There was at least one surprise. Indian veteran Somdev Devvarman, an Aptos semifinalist in 2009 and 2010 and quarterfinalist last year, lost to 22-year-old Guilherme Clezar of Brazil 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.
   The 30-year-old Devvarman, a two-time NCAA singles champion at Virginia (2007 and 2008), won the $50,000 Winnetka (Ill.) Challenger last month. He is ranked No. 148 to Clezar's 167. ...
   Qualifier Mischa Zverev, a former top-50 player, topped 17-year-old wild card Taylor Harry Fritz, currently No. 1 in the juniors, 6-7 (1), 7-5, 6-3. Zverev, a Moscow native who plays for Germany, reached the Aptos quarterfinals two years ago.
   Fritz, 6-foot-4 (1.93 meters) lives in Rancho Santa Fe in the San Diego area. His father (Guy), mother (Kathy May) and uncle (Harry Fritz) all played professional tennis. May, in fact, climbed to the top 10 in the world. ...
   Farrukh Dustov of Uzbekistan defeated American qualifier Tennys Sandgren, who played for the Sacramento-based California Dream of World TeamTennis last month, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1. In the 2013 Comerica Bank Challenger, Dustov advanced to the semifinals as a qualifier, and Sandgren reached the quarterfinals as a wild card.
At Seascape Sports Club in Aptos, Calif.
First-round singles
   Kyle Edmund (3), Great Britain, def. Takuto Niki, Japan, 6-1, 6-2.
   John Millman (1), Australia, def. Alexander Sarkissian, United States, 6-2, 6-0.
   Bjorn Fratangelo (4), United States, def. Marius Copil, Romania, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2.
   Mischa Zverev, Germany, def. Taylor Fritz, United States, 6-7 (1), 7-5, 6-3.
   Elias Ymer, Sweden, def. Yuki Bhambri, India, 6-2, 6-2.
   Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan, def. Tennys Sandgren, United States, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.
   Daniel Nguyen, United States, def. Jurgen Zopp, Estonia, 6-4, 6-4.
   Guilherme Clezar, Brazil, def. Somdev Devvarman, India, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.
   Malek Jaziri (2), Tunisia, def. Karen Khachanov, Russia, 6-3, 6-1.
   Matthew Ebden (6), Australia, def. Liam Broady, Great Britain, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
   Taro Daniel (5), Japan, def. Ze Zhang, China 7-6 (6), 6-2.
   Tommy Haas, Germany, def. Andrey Rublev, Russia, 6-4, 6-3. 
Wednesday's schedule
Center Court
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Kyle Edmund (3), Great Britain, vs. Daniel Nguyen, United States.
   John Millman (1), Australia, vs. Guido Andreozzi, Argentina.
   Andre Dome and John Paul Fruttero, United States, vs. Marius Copil, Romania, and Andre Rublev, Russia.
   Chris Guccione, Australia, and Artem Sitak (1), New Zealand, vs. Daniel Nguyen and Dennis Novikov, United States.
   Dean O'Brien and Ruan Roelofse, South Africa, vs. Guido Andreozzi, Argentina, and Nicolas Jarry, Chile.
 (Not before 6 p.m.)
   Yoshihito Nishioka (8), Japan vs. Jared Donaldson, United States.
 Court 5
(Starting at 10 a.m.)
   Austin Krajicek and Nicholas Monroe (2), United States, vs. Deiton Baughman and Eric Johnson, United States.
   Carsten Ball, Australia, and Somdev Devvarman, India, vs. Karen Khachanov, russia, and Elias Ymer, Sweden.
   Julio Peralta, Chile, and Matt Seeberger (4), United States, vs. Yuki Bhambri, India, and Matthew Ebden, Australia.
   Taro Daniel (5), Japan, vs. Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan.
   Guilherme Clezar, Brazil, and Brydan Klein, Great Britain, vs. Sekou Bangoura, United States, and Liam Broady, Great Britain. 
(Not before 5 p.m.)  
   Farrukh Dustov, Uzbekistan, and Jurgen Zopp, Estonia, vs. Malek Jaziri, Tunisia, and Ze Zhang, China.

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