Former World No. 2 Tommy Haas recently won his first ATP Champions Tour events at the Legends Cup in Mallorca. Now, the German, who also serves as Tournament Director at the BNP Paribas Open, heads to Great Britain for Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall, seeking another trophy. Haas spoke to ATPWorldTour.com in the lead-up to the tournament:
How excited are you to be heading to Great Britain for Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall?
I’m very excited. I’ve heard a lot of great things about the event and obviously about the Royal Albert Hall. My former colleagues that have played there many times already have said that it’s as good of a venue you can get. Seeing the pictures, it looks amazing… I’m very much looking forward to going out and competing at as high of a level as I can. I know London during Christmas time will be a treat for me, so overall just very much looking forward to it.
Given you haven’t been retired for very long and you are still involved in tennis in various capacities, how excited do you still get to go out there and compete with the rest of the ATP Champions Tour players?
For sure, I do. I’m playing my first match against Xavier Malisse. I’ve known Xavier for many, many years. We practised a lot together in the past at the IMG Academy, we go way back and it’s obviously always nice to see other familiar faces. Whether it’s Juan Carlos Ferrero, Mark Philippoussis, Goran Ivanisevic, John McEnroe, who I practise with sometimes in Malibu, California, it’s always good to be around the tennis guys and catch up and see how everyone’s doing, and meanwhile have the excuse to try to stay in shape and go out there and play something you’re very, very passionate about and have done all your life. It’s something we will always know how to do best at the end of the day and we can go out there and play in front of people who appreciate the game and appreciate us, support us by coming to these events. It’s great for us, and I do enjoy it.
When you’re out there competing against some of your contemporaries who you’ve played on the world’s biggest stages, are there moments where you hit a shot and think, ‘Hey, I’ve still got it’?
Absolutely. I played at the ATP Champions Tour event in Mallorca where I played against all the great Spanish players from the past and when you’re playing on the third or fourth day, you’re kind of grinding. There are moments when I said, ‘Wow, I feel like I’m getting back to that level where I feel very confident and the mind and the racquet, what I’m trying to do, I’m actually doing it’, which is great. Then there are times when you play and you want to play at a certain level and maybe you haven’t played that much tennis before it or maybe you haven’t done that much physical activity, and all of a sudden you’re just a half a step or a step too slow and the ball’s not going where you normally want and it’s frustrating. The ups and downs are still there, I don’t think that will ever change.
If I’m looking at somebody who I obviously admire like John McEnroe, he’s 59 years old, but he’s obviously the best player of his age in the world by far. He’s still out there competing and he wants to play games and points. And it’s fun, that will always be the same for me. As long as my body allows me to stay active, I’m definitely going to try to play this game as long as I can. There’s absolutely nothing I enjoy doing more.
Off the court, you have a big responsibility at the BNP Paribas Open as Tournament Director. How has that experience been for you and how excited are you for the event to come around in a few months?
It’s absolutely great. Always a lot of talks and discussions and meetings about what we can do better every year, what we can improve on. It’s such an amazing team. I’m so happy to be a small piece of the team and help out and give my input and have the relationships with the players and help with the fans, the sponsors and add value to the event, which I think I do, and just keep learning more and more about it. We’re trying to keep raising the bar at this amazing Masters 1000 event at Indian Wells. It’s a two-hour drive from Los Angeles, so it’s a very convenient situation. I can’t wait… Hopefully everybody is healthy to come join us and it’s great.
Has there been anything that has surprised you in your role as Tournament Director?
You see a lot of things now from the other point of view. When you’re a tennis player and you’re on Tour, you make the decisions, you’re your own boss and everything ultimately comes down to your decisions, your dedication and you become very selfish. It all surrounds what you need and what you want. Now all of a sudden it’s more about what do the players want and need or what can I do to make sure the players feel better. It’s about the fans, what we can do to make it better for the sponsors, so it’s an all-around experience for everyone. The selfishness goes completely out the door. It’s not really about me at all anymore, which is great and I don’t need that anyway, but it’s all about everybody else and a team effort, which I love. We’ve got an amazing team of people there that have been there for such a long time, and we’re all in to make the event better and obviously with our boss — Mr. Larry Ellison, who is a great person to have in the sport of tennis and give his love to the game to everyone and complete his vision that he has for the event — it’s great to be a part of.
From a third perspective, you’ve also spent some time coaching Lucas Pouille. How has that experience been?
I didn’t think I was going to get into coaching that quickly. But when somebody asks you for your advice, maybe for a little bit of your help, you try to make everything possible. Also one of my most important jobs is trying to be a good dad to my two beautiful girls, so I don’t want to be gone for too long. I can’t do these things full-time. Meanwhile I try to do my best to keep motivating and inspiring Lucas. He’s had a couple of ups and downs this year and he’s in a phase where he has to figure out what he wants to accomplish next and with who and how. It was also nice to see the other side and what a coach has to go through, trying to keep a player in a good mood and motivated and making sure he puts in all his work and it’s very interesting. I did enjoy that. We’ll see if we continue next year or not, but it’s one of those things where the player has to figure out a lot of things as well and surround himself with the people who he thinks can ultimately help him to reach his goals. It was a great experience.
Were there any lessons in particular you tried to instill in him?
I think just constantly trying to stay motivated, keeping it fun, trying to find the right balance between hard work and being relaxed and just sharp when it comes down to playing the matches. Obviously there are always things you can work on tactically and technically, as well. And that takes time. Unfortunately you need more time sometimes to make some changes and I didn’t really have that much, but he has a good time with a lot of other coaches and physios and fitness coaches, so everything is there, really. If you want to be a permanent Top 10 player, reach the Top 5 or become a Grand Slam champion, it takes a lot. It’s basically breathing tennis all the time from the morning until the evening. The player has to ultimately be ready to do that and I think Lucas has a lot of potential. I really like his game a lot. He’s a great athlete. He’s got a lot of potential to do well in the years to come, so we’ll see if we continue or I keep helping him out a few weeks here or there, but again it was a good experience for me. I really enjoyed it and I probably should have done it a little bit earlier to see what a coach goes through from the outside, but it was fun.