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Tennis

Haas takes long road back

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published April 20, 2004

Tommy Haas improved to 4-0 against Andy Roddick on Sunday, so in a sense his victory in the U.S. Clay Court Championship final wasn't really an upset.

Until you consider this: The German-born player who now calls Bradenton home last won a tournament in October 2001 and sat out 16 months before starting his comeback in February. He missed the entire 2003 season after having right rotator cuff surgery in New York on Dec.20, 2002, then having arthroscopic surgery on the same shoulder last summer. Also in 2002, Haas took several weeks off to be in Sarasota with his parents, who were injured in a motorcycle accident.

All of this, not surprisingly, took its toll.

Haas, 26, once as high as No. 2 and thought to be a serious threat in the majors, plummeted in the rankings. Even after Sunday's win, he sits at No. 145. But that's 204 spots better than a week ago.

"There's only so much you can do off the court, but once you actually hit the court it's different," Haas said Sunday. "With people watching, the adrenaline starts moving around so it's a different ball game."

The event was the fifth of Haas' comeback.

"This victory in Houston is a very special one for me," Haas said on his Web site. "And so important for my game and my confidence."

NOT SO FAST: Maybe Venus Williams was on to something. After losing to Elena Dementieva in the quarterfinals at the Nasdaq-100 Open two weeks ago in Key Biscayne, Williams said her game was "on the up and up," but it certainly didn't look that way. At the time, she hadn't won a tournament in 14 months.

The drought ended Sunday at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C., when she defeated Conchita Martinez in the final for her 30th title. The former No.1 has played second fiddle to little sister Serena Williams the past two years but showed signs of her old self last week, albeit against a field missing the top players Justine Henin-Hardenne and Serena, who dropped out with injuries.

Venus, whose game has not been the same since being slowed by abdominal pains last year (she missed several months), had fallen to 16th in the rankings. She's 13th but was No. 1 as recently as two years ago. Better still, the tournament was played on clay, a good sign with the French around the corner. Her last major title came at the 2001 U.S. Open.

"I just wanted to start this year from here," she said.

ON THE MEND: Nine-time major champion Monica Seles, out since last year with a stress fracture in her left foot, plans to make her return at the French, which begins May 24. Seles, 30, had a cast removed and is working herself back into playing shape. The Sarasota resident hasn't had a competitive match since losing in the first round of the 2003 French.

ODDS AND ENDS: Tennis afficionado Bud Collins, who for years has covered the sport for NBC and the Boston Globe, now has his own Web site. At www.budcollinstennis.com Collins posts stories from tournaments along with photos of he and his wife, Anita Ruthling Klaussen, from their various trips around the globe. ... Lindsay Davenport's win at the recent Bausch & Lomb Championships in Amelia Island gave her 40 career titles, tying her with Martina Hingis for ninth place all-time. ... Roddick has signed a multiyear deal with Rolex watches, but financial terms were not not announced. ... Roddick No. 2, Andre Agassi (No. 5) and Tampa's Mardy Fish (No. 18) are the only American men ranked in the top 30. ... Fish and James Blake, also of Tampa, won the doubles title at the U.S. Clay Court Championship, beating Rich Leach and Brian MacPhie 6-3, 6-4.

LAST WORD: "There's no doubt that tennis, the men's game, is better than it's ever been. It's at its best right now." - ESPN commentator Cliff Drysdale

- Information from www.atptennis.com www.wtatour.com and the Associated Press was used in this report.

[Last modified April 20, 2004, 01:20:37]


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