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January 29, 2009

Tommy Haas

Q. I was going to ask you first, I guess, in Memphis, this is I guess a case of welcome back for you.
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, definitely. Like I always say, when I am in Memphis in the pressroom basically, there's just something about the tournament that I really like, the conditions, the way it plays there, and my daily routine that I really enjoy. I always seem to play -- actually have played some of my best tennis in my career there. Always looking forward for the trip to Memphis.

Q. I know we said before it was your first tour title.

Q. For any player does that hold some significance?
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, definitely. At that time it was right before my 21st birthday, and I've been to a couple finals before. It was a nice feeling to get the monkey off your back winning your first title, and winning my first title against Jim Courier, someone that I enjoyed watching over the years, and someone that has achieved so much in his own career was even a more special moment for me, even though his career was kind of winding down. Beating Jim was just as special as winning my first title, so that was very exciting for me back then.

Q. Do you recall anything else about that week, some things about your game that were going right or just people you beat?
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, I remember that year I got to the semifinals of the Australian Open for the first time and I was just starting to pick up my game. I think that year I changed racquets in January actually to Dunlop, and I was just kind of excited about the new change and I liked the racquet and having a lot of confidence coming in from the Australian Open semifinals, and I do not recall exactly who I played in the first couple of rounds. I'm sure if you told me I would remember. But I do remember playing Todd Martin in the semifinals there and just feeling the ball really well, serving really well, and I think he might have been the defending champion. I remember just hitting some unbelievable shots and just feeling really comfortable out there.
So I had a lot of confidence going into the final even though I was quite nervous and excited to play Jim Courier, because being a little guy, watching him play so many big matches was kind of intimidating for me to see him across the net.
But once I kind of won the first set I felt like I was in control of the whole match and really happy to kind of actually not be in a tight place to kind of finish out the match and be very in control of the match because it's always something special to serve for your first tournament victory. I just remember playing like really, really well.

Q. In terms of it being a unique stop in Memphis on tour in terms of the club atmosphere and the intimacy of the stadium court, how does that play into how you play?
TOMMY HAAS: Well, in Germany, basically growing up in Germany we have a lot of tennis clubs where you have lots of outdoor courts but also a lot of indoor courts because six months out of the year we play indoors. Memphis to me is one of those tournaments where you have that nice country club type of atmosphere where all these members kind of look forward to that week of tennis. It's just totally different. Like there is no stadium there. It's kind of like a really home feel atmosphere in the club where you kind of grow up playing tennis. It just has a special feel to me.
Just the way it sounds when you hit the tennis balls there on center court and the speed of the court, it's always been just right up my alley for my game. I've had some losses there, as well, obviously over the years, but even when I have lost I always felt like I played decent tennis. Having said that and having my other routine besides off the court, a couple of restaurants that I go to and kind of not playing before afternoon or evening session is something that I really enjoy.

Q. Through the years, I know you've battled all types of injuries, shoulder, back, hip, wrist, stomach. Is there any part of your body you haven't injured?
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, you know, it's always been unfortunately pretty much the same injuries. I think once something starts breaking down in your body, like it was my shoulder, it's tough to really get that fully recovered again 100 percent. But you try and just cope with it. I've had obviously three surgeries now in my career on the shoulder, which is pretty severe, but I've had a few other injuries here and there which haven't been as bad as the shoulder, and I think for a tennis player your arm is really important obviously. But it has never stopped me from trying to come back, and I've came back a couple times obviously from basically zero and being away for 15 months, and coming back was a big accomplishment.
But when I'm feeling healthy and I go out there and I play tennis, I don't remember my past injuries and just kind of try to enjoy the game and play as long as I can and still be as successful as I can because it's a great sport, and I know one day it's going to be over forever, and that's why you've got to just enjoy every moment and do your best to stay out there as long as you can.

Q. Talk a little bit about that. In terms of we were talking to Lleyton Hewitt earlier this week about the mental aspect of coming back from any kind of injury. Did you have to fight through that? Was that the case with you with some of those?
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, the first time I really had the shoulder surgery I was 24 years old. I was just playing my best tennis, I had my best ranking, everything was going my way to really do a lot of damage on the tour. But then that being taken away from me and the doctor telling me you could be back in six months and then it turns into 15 months, yeah, that takes a toll mentally. But I was only 24, 25 by the time I came back or right before my 26th birthday. So I still felt like I had a few years left to play for sure no matter how long it was going to take me to come back. So mentally I was still pretty strong and excited and motivated.
If this is something that would happen to me now again at 30, 31, and if I would have to undergo another shoulder surgery or another surgery that would take me out six to nine months, I think it would be totally different and something I don't know if I can do mentally again and try to come back and regain your ranking and all that stuff because it's a hard job. You can't just start off and be back right away playing with the top guys when you're gone for so long.
Somehow I've managed to still play some of my best tennis, which was good enough to come back into the top 10 and have some great matches against the best players in the world still and win a few titles actually after my two surgeries back in '02 and '03. So that gave me a lot of motivation, and I feel like if I'm healthy and I can play a couple of weeks in a row and play a lot of matches, I feel like I can come back to play my best tennis quite quickly and still bug the guys up on the top.

Q. I guess the last shoulder surgery, was it like November of '07?
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, that's right.

Q. Was that one any harder? You talked about coming back from the ones in your early 20s.
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, it wasn't really harder, it was just like even in '07 I had the best start of my career ever. You know, I've had some problems in between, that year again with the shoulder, even though I played some extremely good tennis for a period of time there. You know, having to undergo surgery again was really tough mentally because I felt like I got kind of robbed again right before I started playing my best tennis. Having to do that again because I absolutely had no strength left in my shoulder, and any exercise that I was doing it just didn't allow me because my nerve was being decompressed by the tendons that run above it, and the only way to get rid of that was probably to have surgery again. My doctors told me that I could maybe be back as fast as six weeks after surgery, which was not the case again. It took me much longer.
By the time I felt stronger and better again in the shoulder, four months had passed again. You can't defend your points, and you lose a couple of points that are pretty dramatic so your ranking drops and you kind of see yourself trying to fight back again.
Mentally that was really tough again. But overall, like I said in the past few interviews I've given, in the Australian Open or even telling myself at the end of last year my ranking is not such a big concern anymore because I feel like healthy and playing good tennis, I can pretty much still be tough for anyone out there and I feel like I have a good chance of still doing pretty well. If I didn't feel that, if I felt like my game has suffered from all the setbacks and I can't really produce any power anymore or I lost a lot in my game or two steps in my footwork, then I don't know if I would really be doing this to myself.
But I still feel good and still enjoy the game and still feel like maybe down the road somewhere I can still maybe get a title under my belt, so that's why I'm continuing to do so.

Q. That's what I was going to ask you. You've been No. 2 in the world, you've been a semifinalist at the Australian Open two or three times, I guess, and at this stage in your career what's out there that just really drives you?
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, just to continue to play well. There is no comparison of any feeling really that I get in my life where you walk out on center court, even when I played against Nadal. You play a night match and there's 14,000, 15,000 people there cheering you on or looking for a great match. This is what I always dreamt of doing as a young kid, and I'm basically living my dream. So I want to just continue to do so as long as I can.
Win or lose, sometimes obviously some guys will always be better, and the ones that are favored to win. But these kind of moments, or even at the US Open last year playing Richard Gasquet, young up-and-comer, on the Louis Armstrong court, the big matches on big courts, it gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Like I told you before, one day those things will be gone, the pressure will be gone and all that comes with it. You know, it's tough to find that in any other part in your life really. You can't explain what goes through your mind at those certain times. It's a good feeling, and I think to have this kind of feeling, you're very lucky and blessed, and you've just got to enjoy that until you're done with your career.

Q. Obviously with Federer reaching the final of the Australian Open earlier today, he'll have a chance now to tie Pete Sampras' record for Grand Slam titles. You've played both Roger and Pete during your career. Can you talk about just the perspective? What does that mean for someone like Roger to be there?
TOMMY HAAS: Well, I think basically it's a huge accomplishment. Roger is turning only 28 this year. If he can tie his record of 14 now, I think he'll have a really good chance to surpass him. Who would have thought that like five or six years ago that someone was going to win 14 Slams? Not many people at all.
I certainly am pulling for Roger, I think, to do so. I think he probably is the most complete player to ever play the game. There's nothing he can't do, and it's just really a blessing to watch a guy dominate or see what he does on the court every time day in and day out, every Grand Slam on any surface. I don't even know if you can -- I think you can almost put it up higher than Lance Armstrong's Tours de France or any other sportsman. Even Tiger Woods, who probably will be the best golfer ever. But just to do that like every other year, to get to the finals or maybe tie the record now and then maybe surpass Pete at a pretty young age is pretty amazing.
I'm pulling for Roger, even though I'd like to see a final with Nadal and Roger to see what Roger will do against Nadal. I lost to Nadal in the third round and actually thought I played a pretty good match and just came up short in a lot of big points. That would be an exciting final anyway.

Q. When you played against Pete Sampras, at the time do you remember thinking some of the same things you're saying about Roger?
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, playing Pete at the time, it was like -- I mean, Pete has probably the best first serve and second serve in the game ever I would think. I would always give Pete the edge on that. When Pete needed to break you or do well in a tiebreak, he'd step it up a gear and pretty much do that all the time, especially in the big moments. But from the baseline there was a lot of games where Pete would just kind of let go and run away sometimes. He would just go for a shot. His backhand wasn't as good as Pete's (sic), I don't think Pete's slice was as good as Roger's. I just think Pete's serve-and-volley game was probably better than Roger. But on any day, I think I would have to go with Roger in the overall game and the movement.
You know, it's just tough to really put these two guys. Maybe at the time Pete played there was a lot of other characters and a lot of other tough players like Ivanisevic and Boris Becker and Agassi at his prime and a lot of dangerous players that could on any given day beat anybody, where today it's like maybe we don't have that as much. You've got the four top guys right now with Murray, Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, which are always the contenders for the tournaments, and then you kind of have a lot of quality players but no one really dangerous enough to break those guys down. It's a tough thing to say, but even though Roger back in '01 beat Pete on his grass court and kind of took over the torch.

Q. We are a music station here in Memphis, probably not what you're used to talking to. You're used to talking to all the sports people, right?
TOMMY HAAS: Pretty much, that's correct.

Q. So our questions are a little different. Of course we're going to talk about your championship run here with the Regions Morgan Keegan Championships, a big tennis tournament, a huge tennis tournament that's happening here in Memphis starting on February 13th, and you are the three-time champion, by the way.
TOMMY HAAS: Thank you. For some reason I've always played some of my best tennis there. I can't tell you why exactly, but it's working out pretty good for me there.

Q. I heard that you were introduced to your fiance Sara Foster, who's an actress, by Kate Hudson?
TOMMY HAAS: Not really. I have actually a really good friend of mine who lives in New York who originally introduced me to her the first time back during the US Open in 2006. It was kind of -- it's a longer story that I might tell you when I'm actually in Memphis. They are like very, very good friends. She was involved kind of in the beginning when we got together, but she didn't really introduce us.

Q. So she gave you guys a little push?
TOMMY HAAS: Pretty much, yeah, exactly.

Q. How long have you been playing tennis? When was the first time you picked up a racquet?
TOMMY HAAS: That goes way back. I think the first time I actually picked up a racquet, like a little wooden racquet, I was two and a half, three years old. My dad used to be a tennis teacher, and the only way to kind of be around him in the early years was if I would join him on the tennis courts. That's what I did early on, and for me to be busy and have some fun, he gave me a little wooden racquet and I started playing against the wall, and I was just doing those kind of things and really enjoying it.
One day somebody came up to my father and said, hey, your son looks like he's got some talent hitting a tennis ball so maybe you should keep an eye on that. That's what he did, and now I'm basically living my dream playing professional tennis.

Q. You have to really be in shape, though, to play tennis. I was always late getting to the ball. You have to be almost a shot ahead, don't you?
TOMMY HAAS: Pretty much. If you were to ask me about 10 or 15 years ago when I first started on tour, it was a little bit different. I think over the past two or three years they've gotten more athletic, it's gotten more brutal on your body, and people like Rafael Nadal that are coming and dominating the sport I think are kind of proving what physical shape you have to be in out there in order to have a chance to win these days. Everybody is paying a lot more attention to how much work they do off the court, going to the gym, lifting weights, doing a lot of running, getting in good shape, having the right kind of weight, and you watch what you eat. It's gotten really, really popular, and a lot of people are having a lot of success by being in great shape. It's a big bonus to have.

Q. That's not a lifestyle for me, that's for sure.
TOMMY HAAS: If you go on like a three- or six-week program and you see the difference how you feel, what you eat, you do a little bit of a physical session every day or every other day, and then call me back and let me know how you feel.

Q. You were talking about when you were a kid. You said that you learned how to play when you were like three. What did you break around the house with the racquet? Do you remember when you were a kid what you smashed by accident, like a lamp, a picture?
TOMMY HAAS: No, not too much. My dad was always standing in front of me in the house, and he basically said, put the ball back in my hand. That's pretty much what I did. If I didn't, he would give me the look of death and basically tell me if you don't hit it back into my hands we're not going to play this game much longer. I was pretty consistent. I had to be. That was a good thing.

Q. How was Australia? I know it didn't turn out the way you wanted it to, but it was exceptionally hot down there for the Australian Open which is going on, wasn't it?
TOMMY HAAS: Yeah, the last few days have been absolutely incredibly hot. I was there the first week, and we had one of those days where it's tough to describe, but the best way for me to describe it is when you go outside it's like having a person standing next to you, to the right of you, in front of you and behind you with a blow dryer. It's as hot as it gets, and that's how hot it feels when you walk around. So it's really uncomfortable, and the heat just beats you down as much as it can.
The good thing about the Australian Open is once they get to the limit of the heat where it's too hot for the players and no longer really secure, they can close the roof and put the air-conditioning on and continue to play that way. It's good safety for the players.

Q. And the crowds are pretty out of control down there in Australia, too?
TOMMY HAAS: They are, yeah. They've got all the crazy Swedes and the Dutch people and the Australians. They love the sport down there in general anyway. It's a lot of fun and probably one of the nicest tournaments with great weather and great fans and good tennis. It's just such a fun event.

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