Tennis: Grounding of a high Haas

Steve Tongue watches the conqueror of Agassi go tumbling out in straight sets
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The Independent Online
THERE was gloom rather than boom-boom as Tommy Haas, the 20-year- old German tentatively touted as the new Boris Becker, blew out in straight sets two days after beating Andre Agassi on Centre Court. The Dutchman John van Lottum, at 154 ranked 55 places behind the Hamburg native, saw him off 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in an hour and a half yesterday.

That meant a disappointed phone call to Nick Bollettieri's tennis academy in Florida, where Haas's victory over the former pupil Agassi created mixed emotions. Bollettieri, missing Wimbledon for the first time in almost a decade, had watched it on tape. Pride in the younger man's achievement just about shaded sympathy for the former champion, with whom he split acrimoniously four years ago.

Haas first went to the academy at the age of 12 and returned full-time in 1992 after 15 supporters paid some pounds 15,000 each to fund him.

"Tommy's been very close to me, and there were a lot of emotions," Bollettieri said of the man he calls "my other son". "I didn't want Andre to be humiliated. The first time they played, [a semi-final at Scottsdale in March], Andre beat him in 42 minutes.

"This time, we asked Tommy to put his first serves into Andre's body, and wide to his forehand. The first close call that went against Tommy he argued and bitched, but didn't lose focus. And you saw Andre's little pigeon-toed feet go twitchy, which is always a sign that he's edgy. You saw more errors from Andre than I can remember at any time since I worked with him. But don't take anything away from Tommy."

The game-plan yesterday, worked out with coach Raul Ordonez, was to attack Van Lottum's serve and forehand, perceived to be weaknesses. There was little evidence of that as Ordonez joined the tight little throng lining Court Four, a world away from the centre stage.

Haas admitted it was difficult to re-adjust after Thursday's excitement, even though he was well supported, the shouts of "Sehr gut!" mixed in with "Let's go, Tommy" to reflect the Americanisation of a player who now lists his base as Florida.

Haas lost the first set on a double-fault, and broke Van Lottum only once, at the start of an ill- tempered second set, in which scarcely a game passed without a disputed point. He lost that advantage immediately and was reprieved only briefly by a rain-break, when within three points of defeat at 3-5 in the third.

No sooner were the players off and the covers on than bright sunshine returned. On the resumption, Haas made another unforced error, finally submitting in the limpest manner with two successive double-faults.

"I was expecting a tougher match," Van Lottum admitted. "He's been playing very well, but Agassi doesn't come into the net like me, so it was different for Tommy this time."

Haas mixed unconvincing excuses with genuine appreciation of what the week has meant to him. "It was very windy and there were a couple of line- calls against me," he said. "It's difficult when there's so long to wait between matches because of the weather, but that's Wimbledon.

"It's been a very good tournament for me overall. The experience with Agassi on Centre Court I'll take with me for the rest of my life. I didn't play my best tennis today, but it's a totally different game against somebody you don't know so well. I'm not a typical grass-court player.

"I want to improve my serve-and-volley game and coming to the net. But next tournament we're on clay again, and then it's Davis Cup on whatever surface we play on."

Even before yesterday's let-down, Bollettieri had ear-marked that aspect of his game for improvement. "He needs to come in behind his strokes more. In time, to become top 10 material, or a contender, he must improve his net play by 25 to 30 per cent.

"At the moment, his serve is excellent, he's got a magnificent backhand slice and a killer forehand. And he's competing well since we went to more competitive play in practice. But following in the steps of Becker and Stich hasn't made it easy for him. I've told him he doesn't have anything to prove to the Germans."

Just to himself, perhaps.

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