By Nick Georgandis
In no way should you mistake the title of this blog as an endorsement of the bizarre film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" starring Brad Pitt. That movie is seriously weird, and I would frankly rather watch the two worst players on the ATP tour play a five-set match than ever sit through that abomination again. But "Button"'s plot - that of a man aging in reverse, does call the the life of Tommy Haas to memory, particularly given the German's recent trip to the finals of the San Jose Open. While Haas isn't knocking down Novak Djokovic's door asking for all his trophies, he has defied logic and conventional tennis wisdom by re-entering the Top 20 this week at No. 18, despite being a month short of 35 years of age.
All this from a guy who hadn't played in so long in 2011 that he was unranked for a time, who had dropped to No. 1,086 in February of 2004 and has more than a .600 winning clip on all three major surfaces. When Haas debuted, Bill Clinton hadn't won his second presidential election yet. The Atlanta Summer Olympics were still a few months away, and the only thing people associated 9/11 with was calling for a fire truck or an ambulance. Haas' career has been broken up into huge sections.
The first lasted from 1996-2001, seeing him win the silver medal at the 2000 Olympics and finishing 2001 ranked eighth in the world. But Haas' personal life came to the forefront when his parents were both injured while riding a motorcycle Haas had given his father as a gift. Neither his mother nor father was wearing a helmet at the time of the accident, and his father went into a coma while his mother had to learn how to walk all over again. When Haas finally returned to the tour, it was only briefly as he hurt his shoulder and struggled to come back at full strength, finally returning in 2004.
The German seemed back on his game by 2006, winning three titles and reaching the US Open quarterfinals, and he was back in the Top 10 in 2007. Injuries caught him again in 2008, but he bounced back in 2009 with his best Grand Slam performance ever, reaching the Wimbledon semifinals before losing to Roger Federer. When injuries struck again in 2010 and 2011, most thought that Haas, now into his early 30s, would simply retire, but the drive remained, at least in part because of the bulk of his prime he missed while dealing with his family's injuries and his own. Instead of settling in to life off the court, Haas found a full year of good health in 2012 and was rewarded with a brief return to the Top 20 and became the only player ever to win the ATP's Comeback Player of the Year award twice.