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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Roger Federer, Tommy Haas

"Normally, I kind of didn't believe (I could win) to be honest," said Tommy Haas after stunning Roger Federer in Stuttgart.

Photo credit: Mercedes Cup

Fans clad in RF caps greeted Roger Federer’s return to tournament tennis chanting his name in a chorus.

In his first match since capturing the Miami Open title 10 weeks ago, Federer received a rock star's welcome facing good buddy and bandmate Tommy Haas.

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On this day, Haas played bold first-strike tennis upstaging the star of the show in a stunner.

The 39-year-old German turned back time fighting off a match point in the second set to shock Federer, 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4 on the grass of Stuttgart.

The top-seeded Federer suffered his second loss of the season and first since loss since March 1st when 116th-ranked Russian qualifier Evgeny Donskoy denied three match points in the second-set tie break and reeled off six consecutive points in the decider completing a shocking 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) upset of Federer to advance to his first Dubai quarterfinal.

Haas is the oldest ATP quarterfinalist in 22 years—since a 42-year-old Jimmy Connors advanced to the 1995 Halle final.

Outclassed in the opening set, the Indian Wells tournament director and part-time player conceded he surprised himself with a dynamic comeback.

“Mainly, I’m pretty speechless of course,” Haas said afterward. “Playing Roger is always very special, especially on grass, especially here in Germany. It’s tough to put it in words right now. A lot of emotions—not an easy thing playing a close friend either—I think you could see both of our nerves playing a little bit of a role.

“But when you’re gonna come in the second set, you saved some match point, you play freely. He couldn’t close it out there in the second set. Obviously, I’m very happy about the win and like I said still short of shocked myself.”

Though Federer fired 23 aces and served 74 percent it was not enough to prevent his first opening-round exit on grass since then 154th-ranked Mario Ancic, who is now an attorney, toppled a 20-year-old Federer in the 2002 Wimbledon first-round.

"I couldn’t get up to the level that I wanted to," Federer said. "I should have somehow broken him at least once and then maybe the match would have been closer. But I wasn’t able to do that."

The 35-year-old Swiss was playing his first match since sweeping rival Rafael Nadal in the Miami Open final on April 2nd to complete the sunshine double. Federer showed signs of rust—he converted just three of 12 break points and double-faulted away the second-set tiebreak after holding match point at 8-7. But credit Haas for changing up his game, playing more proactive tennis and fending off all seven break points he faced in the final set.

"There’s a lot of factors that come into play in a match like this that really only the insiders know,” Haas said. "He hasn’t played a match in 10 weeks. The first match is always the toughest so maybe deep down I thought to myself there’s maybe a small chance if I can serve well, play well and hold my serve you never know what can happen—especially on a surface like this."

Sporting a shorter hairstyle, Federer appeared to be on track to make quick work of his sometime practice partner.

A Haas backhand off the tape popped up and plopped wide giving Federer the first break two minutes into match.

On a smooth serve-and-volley, Federer softened his wrist deadening an exquisite drop volley winner to back up the break at 15.

Federer made the chalk dance with an ace holding at love 3-1. Haas had his moments, too. Taking a backhand on the rise, Haas whipped his one-hander creating a short angle then swept a backhand crosscourt for break point in the sixth game. Federer came back firing slashing an ace down the T for 4-2.

Moving fluidly across the lawn, Federer drained successive errors to break again extending the lead to 5-2. Straddling the baseline Federer curled a crosscourt forehand serving out a clean 22-minute set at love.

Flashing his own backhand brilliance, Federer greeted a short second serve with a superb backhand return strike down the line breaking at love for a 2-1 second-set lead.

When the 39-year-old Haas turns 99 someday he’ll probably still possess a yo-yo artist control over his wondrous one-hander. Staring down break point in the ninth game, Haas hit his ninth ace out wide then slid a low backhand pass down the line, eventually holding for 5-4.

The season has been billed as Haas’ farewell tour, but the Indian Wells tournament director was in no mood for early departure.

The Federer serve alternately saved him and buried him in the tie break.

The top-seeded Swiss slammed a 127 mph ace only to see Haas answer with an ace of his own to level the breaker at four.

When Federer netted a forehand down the line, Haas had double set point at 6-4.

Launching himself up on serve, Federer popped the paste with his third ace of the breaker to save set point then cracked a forehand down line to deny the second set point. Federer saved a third set point before earning match point at 8-7, but missed a running backhand long.

A forehand drive down the line gave Haas a fourth match point and when Federer double faulted deep, Haas, dangling on the ledge of loss moments earlier, was flying high.

Still, Federer came back to earn three break points in the fourth game of the decider. Haas fended off a third break point with his 11th ace. Banging a firm body serve, Haas worked through a triple-break point test for 2-all.

The pair engaged in one of the longest rallies of the match in the next game. Standing toe-to-toe with the Australian Open champion in a crackling backhand exchange, Haas coaxed a backhand error breaking for 3-2.

Caressing an angled drop volley winner, Haas saved a break point in the next game and saved a second break point driving a forehand down the line. A double fault handed Federer his fourth break point of the game. Stepping in on a second serve, Federer found the net with his backhand return creating a fifth deuce.

Curling another backhand drop shot winner, Haas salvaged a hard-fought hold for 4-2. By then, he had denied all seven break points he faced in the set.

Haas flew through the finish line converting his second match point on a missed backhand to complete an improbable one hour, 54-minute conquest that delighted his young daughter, who was bouncing up and down clapping in the front row, and his parents on hand to see Haas' first win over Federer since the 2012 Halle final on grass.

"Normally, I kind of didn’t believe (I could win) to be honest," Haas said. "Playing great tennis, playing in front of my family and my daughter that’s really what it’s all about for me now. Happy to do it one more time here in Stuttgart."


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