PARIS (Reuters) - Tommy Haas rolled back the years to reach the second round of the French Open on Tuesday and later said he was inspired by the thought of giving his young daughter some golden memories.
The German stylist, who once reached number two in the world during a career blighted by too many injuries, produced a dashing display to beat Italian Filippo Volandri 6-3 0-6 6-4 6-4 and set up a second-round clash with Sergiy Stakhovsky.
“My daughter (Valentina) is a year and a half. If I can play another year, year and a half, maybe she gets to see me play at a real high level still, which is another goal of mine,” Haas told reporters when asked what motivates him to keep pushing his 34-year-old body into battle.
“I don’t know if I’ll make it but I’ll try.”
Haas is not alone in trying to hold back the sands of time.
This year’s French Open men’s singles contained no fewer than 37 players aged 30 and over - an age which in years gone by would have signaled it was time to hang up the rackets.
Haas said his own longevity was down to missing three or four years through injury.
”Maybe mentally I‘m only 29, 30 instead of my real age is showing,“ Haas said. ”It all depends on my body, really, how I‘m feeling to be able to continue.
“Situations like today make it all worthwhile to put in the work, the effort. This is why you go out and try to come back and try to push yourself to be able to play these matches.”
Haas, who reached his career high in 2002 but is now down at 112, came through qualifying to reach the main draw for the 12th time - a bonus for the purist fans who like to watch tennis played with an artist’s touch.
”When I grew up, I always tried to play the real pretty sort of game in many ways,“ said Haas. ”That’s how my dad taught me. The backhand always needed to be like Ivan Lendl’s backhand.
“A lot people of people come up to me and they do like my technique at times.”
Haas, who came within five points of knocking out Federer in the fourth round in 2009, the year the Swiss went on to claim the Paris slam for the first time, said he was not surprised so many players were extending their careers into the twilight.
”I think a lot has to do with maybe we’re also taking care of our bodies much more and realizing you have to be in great shape,“ Haas said. ”When you’re in great shape you can go maybe a little bit longer.
”Maybe times have changed. Back when I started playing everybody retired at age 30, 31. Michael Stich, (Boris) Becker, (Stefan) Edberg, all these guys that I sort of looked up to, they left the game during that time.
”(Andre) Agassi showed us that it’s possible to play unbelievable tennis at age 34, 35, 36 if you keep yourself in great shape.
”At the age that I‘m even at now I think he was still No. 1 in the world. That’s very inspirational.
“I think when you’re 30 you also don’t want to maybe realize that your time is over yet and you want to continue to play and enjoy this game, just enjoy it while you can.”
Writing by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar