INTERVIEW-Tennis-Golden oldie Haas banking on lucky 13
LONDON, June 24
LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) - For a man whose career has been littered with bad injuries and bad luck being seeded 13th at Wimbledon at the ripe old age of 35 might have been the final straw.
Germany's Tommy Haas sees it differently.
"It's very special, 13 is my lucky number. It's the year 2013, seeded 13. Sometimes life works in mysterious ways," a grinning Haas, who plays Russian Dmitry Tursunov in the first round on Tuesday, told Reuters in an interview.
"Doesn't mean I'm going to do well but it's a good start to the tournament for me this way. Happy to be at Wimbledon at this stage of my career."
Lady luck was certainly smiling on Haas after the draw landed him in the easier half of the 128-man field away from Wimbledon big guns Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray.
On the flip side Haas, who made his Wimbledon debut in 1997 when grand-slam winning compatriots Boris Becker and Michael Stich were still playing, could run into world number one Novak Djokovic in the last 16.
But with his career now well into borrowed time, Haas remained undaunted.
"If it comes to a fourth round match with Djokovic, I'll take that any day. I'm happy about it," said Haas, whose best performance at Wimbledon was a semi-final appearance in 2009 when he lost to Federer.
It is little wonder that he adopts a glass-half-full attitude after all the trials and tribulations he has endured during his 17-year career.
Haas has been poked and prodded by a surgeon's knife more times then he cares to remember.
Shoulders, elbows and hips have all needed medical attention at various times but that has not prevented the patched-up German playing some of his best tennis late in his career.
"I've missed a few years through injuries and maybe mentally that's why I'm not so fried yet," said Haas, who has enjoyed wins over Federer and Djokovic in the past year and captured titles on home soil in Halle (2012) and Munich.
"When I first became a professional in 1996, for me I thought that at age 30, 31 I'll be done with this sport. That was where the bar was set.
"That was the age where most of my idols growing up, like Boris and Michael Stich, stopped playing.
"Even Pete Sampras stopped at 32 after the U.S. Open. But then Andre Agassi, who was another idol of mine, became number one in the world at age 33 and still won slams in his 30s."
Agassi's success has certainly spurred on Haas, whose year-end ranking has yo-yoed from a career high two in 2002 to a mixture of 46-11-84-18-373 in the past decade to 13th this week.
He completed his collection of having reached at least the quarter-finals in all four majors at Roland Garros this month.
There was no shame in losing to Djokovic and, with each day he prolongs his career, Haas is thankful he is still competing with the best when it could have been all over 11 years ago.
"At the start of 2002 I started to feel something weird in my shoulder... and for a few days I could not serve any balls. It would then disappear and then come back after four, five weeks and I kept thinking, 'What is going on?'," Haas said as he peered out beneath a blue baseball cap.
"My shoulder was killing me, then my parents had a bad motor cycle accident that didn't allow me to play (for a while)... Finished the year with a lot of pain, then I had the two shoulder surgeries and I was gone for 15 months.
"I felt I was at my prime, aged 23, playing my best tennis so that was tough to accept at that time. I knew I was going to come back, just did not know how, or when or how long it would take me."
The dates with surgeons did not stop in his 20s and he admitted his most recent hospital visit started sowing seeds of doubt about whether he would ever walk out again as a competitor in the biggest tennis arenas of the world.
"With the recent hip surgery, I was 32... I didn't know if I was going to come back after the hip surgery," said Haas, who credits the birth of his daughter Valentina in 2010 for giving him a new lease of life on the tennis courts.
"You never really quite know whether you're going to come back with your body in crutches, and slings...
"Now I enjoy it more because I am more satisfied in my life, I have a daughter, a fiance and am very secure with where I want to go. I'm still happy to be playing this great sport but I know it's going to be over probably sooner rather than later so I try to enjoy it more."
His fiancee, actress Sara Foster has told him to enjoy what he called "riding the last wave of my career" and after that he will be happy to embrace the joys of being a house-husband and putting in all the baby-sitting shifts needed.
But if Valentina Haas thinks a trip on the iconic London Underground may be in the offing once daddy's done playing tennis, she may not get her wish.
"I went on it two years ago. You do it once and then you don't need it again," he said. (Editing by Ken Ferris)
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