After Zverev Upset, Improved Haase Ready For US Open Run
Robin Haase, in one of the biggest wins of his career earlier this month, was a picture of calm. The Dutchman fell behind 1-4 against third seed Alexander Zverev at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
But Haase, in a scene he would have struggled to replicate a few years ago, concentrated on taking deep breaths to regain his focus. He pushed the first set to 5-7 before coming back to gain the second Top 5 win of his 14-year career 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 and advance to the third round of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event for the first time.
This part of the ATP World Tour calendar – the North American hard-court swing – has already treated Haase well, and for the second year in a row. Last year, he reached his first Masters 1000 semi-final at the Rogers Cup in Montreal (l. to Federer), and he made the quarter-finals in Toronto earlier this month (l. to Khachanov).
Watch Highlights: Haase Upsets Zverev In Cincy
“I think I've been playing better tennis overall this year than I have last year. The game is improving every single time,” Haase told ATPWorldTour.com.
The Dutchman, at 31, is playing perhaps the best tennis of his career, and he'll look to extend that run this week at his ninth US Open. In each of his eight previous visits to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, Haase has never made it past the second round.
He's partnered with a new coach, and together, they're finding ways to move past old obstacles and bring out Haase's most authentic and best level. The Dutchman, free of injuries after knee surgeries a decade ago, is showing a new appreciation for his lifelong sport.
Two and a half years ago, Haase was looking for a new coach, and Raymond Knaap was one of a number of people he contacted. “Can you help me out for just one or two weeks?” he'd ask, trying to find a coach, but also a travel companion.
Holland is hardly a tennis hotbed, and for Haase, throughout his 14-year career, that has often meant weeks on the road with only his team – a physio or coach – and no friends from his home country. For all players, a coach is an expert who can help with a topspin forehand but also a companion who can debate whether to order the chicken parmesan or the sirloin for dinner.
“You see your coach more than any other person in the world,” Haase said.
He and Knaap have spent hours discussing Haase's on-court mentality. For instance, Knaap said, Haase used to have a vision of a “perfect set”. The players would hold serve, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, build to a break and the person who would break would win the set.
But, of course, sets rarely follow such a neat path. Often sets go as Haase's first set went against Zverev: Break, break, hold, break, hold, hold, break, hold, hold, hold, hold, break.
Haase didn't used to think that way, though, and his vision of an ideal set caused unnecessary angst.
“If you think one break is the decider for the set, even if it's 1-all, and you're at 30-all, you actually think that the next point could be the deciding point of the match. Because this one break could be the set. Him thinking like that was getting him really tired already early in the matches and early in the sets,” Knaap said.
Now, though, Haase views 30/30 for what it is – another point to fight for – and plays relaxed.
Knaap was excited when he started working with Haase. But he also wondered: How much would Haase, then 29, be willing to change to improve?
“That is the one thing that has been great with Robin: He is always looking for little things to improve, not only in his game, but also in the way that he treats his body, in the matters that we use,” Knaap said. “He's had two really good years so far.”
Haase's best Grand Slam showings came in 2011 when he reached the third round at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. That was just a few years after he endured two surgeries on his right knee (July 2008, May 2009).
But Haase plays pain free now and has found an unusual way to recover from matches. Forget the ice bath – “Every time I ice something it gets worse” – Haase sits down, then takes a shower and after 40, 45 minutes, he can walk again.
Immediately after matches, however, his arthritis makes walking arduous. The Dutchman limps down stairs, stepping down one at a time, then one at a time.
The 31-year-old still has plenty he'd like to accomplish, including making the third round and further at a Grand Slam. But if that doesn't come in Flushing Meadows, or even years from now, Haase said he can still take pride in what he's achieved.
"I'm hoping that I have an even better career,” Haase said, “But if something would happen and I would have to stop right now, I can look back at wonderful matches, wonderful tournaments and a good career.”