Tuesday, August 10, 1999

Living fast, playing well

Haas coming into his own

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tommy Haas ran his record to 35-18 this year by beating Xavier Malisse 7-5, 6-2 in a first-round match.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
| ZOOM |
        MASON — Tommy Haas is in a hurry.

        Driving fast. Waterskiing. Flying with the Blue Angels.

        “I like speed and excitement, taking risks,” he said.

        He knows where to apply caution: on the tennis court. The 21-year-old German subscribes to a patient plan, hoping to mount a steady surge toward his sport's summit.

        “My main goal is to win a Grand Slam and reach the top 10,” Haas said. “I'm happy. I'm young and have time.”

        Monday, Haas continued his strongest season by beating Xavier Malisse 7-5, 6-2 in a Great American Insurance ATP first-round match. Haas, riding a career-best No. 15 ranking and seeded 11th here, will meet the winner of today's Byron Black-Fabrice Santoro match in the second round Wednesday.

        Haas is 35-18 this year. He started the season 14-2, reaching the Australian Open semifinals and claiming his first career title February in Memphis. If the ATP rankings were based only on the calendar year — as they will be beginning in 2000 — Haas would be No. 7.

        “The Australian Open was a big boost for me,” he said. “And it was important to win an event, since I had lost in (three) finals before. I'm playing more consistent, but I still have problems mentally staying focused.”

        Malisse had plenty such problems Monday. The 19-year-old Belgian, the youngest player in the tournament, has erratic focus. After Haas rallied from a 5-4 first-set deficit, Malisse quickly folded.

        “If he gets his mind together, I think he has a very good future,” Haas said.

        Haas' future is a frequent subject in his homeland, which is starved for its next champion. Haas and 22-year-old Nicolas Kiefer, ranked 17th, are the front-runners.

        “The German country is very spoiled,” Haas said. “They've had Boris Becker, Michael Stich, Steffi Graf. They expect great players, and we're trying our best.

        “There's really no pressure, though. With Nicolas and I, maybe one of us will soon be in the top 10.”

        For now, Haas is staying loose and having fun. That aforementioned ride with a Blue Angels squadron, last year in Indian Wells, Calif., required a day's rest afterward.

        “It was only 45 minutes, but when you pull 71/2 Gs and almost black out, you need time to recover,” he said.


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