It figures that Tommy Haas would be the one playing a match when an iguana showed up on his court. This happened a few weeks ago at the Miami Open. At one point, Haas approached the iguana. Given the injury-flavored arc of Haas’ career, he was wise not to try and touch it. According to iguanaresource.org, “iguanas are capable of inflicting serious bite wounds.” Amid a career that’s seen him ranked as high as #2 in the world and win 15 titles, Haas has suffered injuries from ankle to shoulder, over the last 15 years enduring nine surgeries. Once, at Wimbledon, Haas sprained his right ankle while taking practice serves, the result of one of his opponent’s balls rolling off the back wall.
Now 39, when Haas isn’t tending to his duties as tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open, he’s giving competition a final go. Earlier this week, at the US Men’s Claycourt Championship in Houston, the 826th-ranked Haas beat 19-year-old American Reilly Opelka, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 to became the oldest man to win an ATP World Tour singles match since Jimmy Connors in 1995. Though Haas lost his next match to another American, defending champion Jack Sock, that one too went to three sets.
Haas’ game has always been incredibly versatile. While his sleek one-handed backhand is his signature shot, he’s got a full range of tools - forceful forehand, fine serve, sharp volleys. Still, at times I’ve wondered if the beauty of his backhand seduced him into playing more from the baseline than coming to the net more frequently. Then again, it would be hard to dispute the process of a man who has been down so often and persistently made his way back up the ranks.
“There are many highlights and many highs and lows in tennis,” Haas said in Miami. “To be honest, any regrets, it's tough to say. When you're kids growing up and you idolize people playing tennis and you want to become a tennis professional and you've been doing it now for 20-plus years with obviously lots of ups and downs, surgeries and then injuries, the fact that I'm still doing it and I'm almost turning 39 I'm just really thankful and happy about it.”
Asked to comment about the unexpected visitor, Haas said that, “Maybe the iguana got the note that this is most likely the last time playing here, and he wanted to say hi and take a peek or something.”
Though certainly tennis is filled with odd creatures, expect more than lizards to enjoy Haas’ last lap.