Marat Safin and Tommy Haas played Friday night’s marquee quarterfinal at the LA Tennis Open. There are two “Major” differences between these two friends – Marat has two slams, Tommy has never made it to a major final – otherwise, they have a lot in common: flashy backhands, over a decade on tour, and the complete inability to be poker-faced on court. (Yes, the tournament DJ played Lady GaGa during a changeover.)
Racquets and epithets (in both Russian and German) flew throughout the match, but it was the German who cracked first. Safin broke Haas at love early in the first set and sent him glowering at his box. Not to be outdone, Marat gave Tommy the break back on his next service game, again at love. Safin broke a second time, but failed to serve out the set at 6-5. Then Haas won the breaker 7-3 and ran away with the match, nabbing the second set, 6-2.
“I think he mentally gave in a little bit,” Haas said of Safin after the match.
Which brings us to another major difference between Tommy Haas and Marat Safin. At the tail end of his career, Haas is motivated and focused. Marat, who has eight tournaments left before he retires from the tour, is. . .not.
Safin has yet to beat a top 50 player this year. Until this week, he hadn’t put together back-to-back victories since the Australian Open (where he lost in the 3rd round to Federer.) Tommy Haas, on the other hand, has had a resurgent year. He’s in the top 20 and rising, was up two sets to Roger Federer at the French, won his first title in 2 years (and his first on grass) at Halle, and made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon for the first time, losing again to Federer.
Haas described his season, much like the first set of Friday’s match, as an up and down battle: “You kinda saw the light a little bit and then you saw no light at all,” is how he described his progress this year. “And the last two months have been more than unexpected and unbelievable for me. So I’m really proud with what I’ve accomplished. . and I really enjoy every moment and try to enjoy every moment, win or lose.”
And what about Tommy’s “good friend” Marat, who told reporters this week that he’d like L.A. a lot better if he wasn’t playing tennis here (click here.):
“If (Safin) would train hard and put all of his effort into it, he could still be, I think, going for these titles. But sometimes motivation is huge and where you are mentally in your life. I think he’s looked into some other big business opportunities already after his career, and you know, when you put your mind into these things a lot then sometimes you’re not taking (tennis) as serious.”
But at the same time, he (played) for a good 10 years and he was very successful. I think any player that just wants to play one last year, or the tournaments one more time, you just have to let it go and let him enjoy it. Let him have fun and let him go out this way. He’s going to look back and say ‘I had a pretty good career.’”
Haas, should he suddenly feel like joining his buddy on the beach, could say the same about his own time on tour. But right now, he still prefers the tennis courts to white sand. And he’s not ready to look back.
Tommy Haas plays Sam Querrey on Saturday night in the LATennis Open semis. Aussie/So-calian qualifier Carsten Ball will take on Argentine Leonardo Mayer in the afternoon match. Click here for the LA Tennis Open TV Schedule.