(Reuters) - Just shy of his 35th birthday with a battle-scarred body after numerous career-saving surgeries, Tommy Haas produced the shock of the year so far by outclassing world number one Novak Djokovic in Miami on Tuesday.
The German’s 6-2 6-4 victory at the Sony Open proved again the widely held belief that but for chronic injury problems and bad luck, grand slam titles would surely have come his way.
Haas’s classical, easy-on-the-eye, style took him to world number two in May 2002 and for a while he looked like the natural adversary for the emerging Roger Federer.
His progress was stalled, however, first when his parents were in a serious motorcycle accident that left his dad in a coma for weeks and then when two shoulder surgeries kept him off the court for more than a year.
He has been playing catch-up ever since, but rather than any bitterness, Haas’s previous misfortune has taught him to enjoy moments like this week’s masterclass against Djokovic - a player who has become almost unbeatable on hard courts.
“Playing against Novak and coming out on top at this time of my career, it’s unbelievable,” Haas, who missed 11 months after hip surgery in 2010, told reporters.
”It goes up as one of the best wins of my career.
”There were times when I wouldn’t have believed (that I could get back to this level), no way.
“When I came back after my hip surgery it was grueling. It was nine months, 12 months before I actually felt like I could train again and get in better shape and sort of maybe feel like I can move and give myself a chance to at least try to go for some victories again that I would enjoy.”
Watching Haas beat Djokovic, and the way he beat Federer in the grasscourt final at Halle last year, it is impossible to understand how the German has never reached a grand slam final.
Semi-finals at the Australian Open in 1999 and 2007 and a similar run at Wimbledon in 2009 are his best attempts and while his chances of bettering that may be over, Haas is clearly enjoying making up for all the lost time.
Back at 18th in the world, having less than two years ago held no ranking whatsoever, Haas believes he is playing some of the best tennis of his career.
“Somewhere in the middle of last year, sometime in April, May, my body sort of adjusted a lot and I could train,” said Haas, who has career wins over nine of the last 10 players to hold the world number one ranking although before Djokovic not a current one since Andre Agassi in 1999.
“Luckily I‘m a guy that likes to work out and get in the best shape that I possibly can, my body allowing. Right now I feel pretty good, as good as I have in a long time, and, you know, I just never give up.”
Haas will face Frenchman Gilles Simon on Wednesday when he will be attempting to reach the semi-final of a Masters Series event for the first time since Paris in 2006.
“This is what I keep playing for,” he said. “These are the moments I appreciate the most, going on those big stadiums, big stages, playing against the best people in the world.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Sonia Oxley