Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Interviewing Tommy Haas

I am predisposed to like Tommy Haas. In large part this is due to our relative similarity in age and in my view at least, mindset. Haas is 35, in the best shape of his life and still finding a way to play at a very high level in the sport that he loves. I am 34, in the best shape of the last three years (we went through a rough stretch there) and finding a way to write at a mediocre level about the sports that I love. But the similarities (in my mind at least) don't end there. In Tommy Haas, I see a man attempting to turn back the hands of time, and play a young man's game far beyond the years it would usually be normal. His outward appearance even showcases this fact, as he remains in ridiculous shape and wears a hat on backwards while playing, a statement that essentially tells the world, "NO, I WILL NOT GROW UP!"  It is that last fact that I find the most fascinating, as it goes against any notion of what is common or acceptable behavior. In no other profession would a 35 year old man wear a hat backwards (or a similar uniform equivalent, like wearing a skinny tie in the courtroom), but Haas does it and does it with reckless abandon.

That is why I try not to miss a Haas match. His epic battles at the French Open were must-see television and I am was looking forward to seeing his play here at the Two Direction Open to watch the fight against Father Time in person. Unfortunately other duties kept me from seeing Haas dismantle Kevin Anderson earlier this morning(6-4, 6-4). Yet I wasn't going to miss a chance to see a Haas interview and see if his personality showcased the same jovial, fun-loving emotion that his backwards hat gives off on match day. However I am still new to this tennis media gig, so when I walked into "Media Room 3" and saw this set-up, I became somewhat nervous:

While it may be the case that I find Tommy Haas fascinating, apparently when it comes to the greater tennis media, he is not one of the more marquee stars. While Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic both interviewed in a massive room with over 75 chairs, Haas was assigned to what resembled a 8 year old's bedroom, with six chairs and four people hovered around. This was not the type of intimacy that I was hoping for and instead it led to cramped interaction that I found uncomfortable. The safety of distance was gone and now I found myself just feet from Haas and his magnificent hair (honestly, I didn't know I was jealous of Haas' hair until he walked in...the hat had always covered it up, but now I was faced with it flowing directly in front of me). The moderator asked for questions and the room was silent...four of us were present and no one had anything to say. The awkwardness just hovered over the room for four...five...six...seven seconds and it became excruciating to sit through. To understand just how bad this can feel, right now walk in your office to your neighbor's cubicle. Sit five feet in front of him and then just stare at him and say nothing for seven seconds. You will quickly see this is an eternity, especially when you are face to face with a tennis player waiting with a perturbed look on his face.

Finally, a reporter broke the silence and asked some random question about what Haas thought about womens' players being in feuds with each other. He clearly didn't have any real comment besides acknowledging that he himself was not a women's player and so I felt I had to break in and try to get this thing off to a rollicking start. Even though I had no interest in asking an actual question, I wanted to begin the Haas train and see that winning personality, all the while showcasing that I too was a fun-loving reporter. And thus I started to ask my question and...well I choked. Here is what I said:

MATT: "Tommy, I asked listeners to my radio show to come up with questions for you and four different ones wrote in with this one....why do you wear a backwards hat while you play?"

It was truly an awful question and as the words dripped from my mouth, my brain oozed regret. I tried to diffuse all responsibility for it at the outset, claiming that it was of strong interest to my radio audience. This wasn't entirely correct however, as it was more a girl that is a friend of mine who wanted me to ask it because she thought it made him look silly. Then another of my friends said that Haas was the only person he knew with a backwards hat, I heard one journalist reference a backwards hat at Indian Wells and then I too had some interest in why he didnt simply wear a regular hat or bandana. That added up to four people, and it felt like saying "radio listeners" was more concise, even if somewhat of a cop out. In such an intimate setting, the question stung like acid rain, and Haas responded by looking at me with puzzlement and essentially saying, "to keep the sweat from may hair out of my eyes." As answers go it was sort of evasive (lots of things could keep sweat out of your eyes, why a backwards hat?), but I decided that such a poor question wasn't really worthy of a even shakier follow-up.

For the rest of the ten minute session, I sulked. Haas waxed poetically on a number of issues and confirmed my belief that he is an interesting player on tour, but I had nothing else to add. With my backwards hat arrow out of my quiver, I was left to just sit awkwardly and hope the question session in the dark room would end and no one would judge me any more. I leaped out of my seat after the final question, ran out and attempted to lick my wounds. I know Haas still has to play again versus Marcel Granollers in the second round, meaning I will get another chance if he is victorious. I have until tomorrow to regroup, come up with a different question and try to reconnect with my kindred spirit on the tennis tour. It may not be perfect, but assuming I can avoid the dreaded "Interview Room 3" and lay off all mention of his hats, one has to believe my second interaction with Tommy Haas will hopefully far exceed my first.