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Unlikely semifinal between veteran German and reinvigorated Chilean

Unlikely semifinal between veteran German and reinvigorated Chilean

The bottom half of the men's singles draw was sprinkled with current and former Grand Slam champions, those who've come close, and those with some hope of winning a major.
But going into Friday's Australian Open semifinal at Rod Laver Arena, only Tommy Haas, a veteran German who came back from two serious shoulder operations four years ago, and a reinvigorated Chilean, Fernando Gonzalez, remain to decide who plays Sunday in the championship.
It might be a low-key semifinal to many _ top-ranked Roger Federer beat Andy Roddick in the other semifinal Thursday _ but both Haas, who is equaling his best Grand Slam performance, and Gonzalez, who has never been past the quarters before, played like they deserve to be there.
Haas, 28, beat No. 8 David Nalbandian, a 2002 Wimbledon finalist, in the fourth round and No. 3 Nikolay Davydenko in the quarterfinals.
Gonzalez, a 26-year-old whose game has improved markedly since he started working with American coach Larry Stefanki, was even more impressive. He beat two-time Grand Slam champion and hometown hope Lleyton Hewitt in the third round and Sydney International winner and majors aspirant James Blake in the fourth.
Gonzalez saved his best for last _ at least so far _ upsetting French Open champion and No. 2 Rafael Nadal in straight sets in the quarterfinals. Nadal said after the match his movement was restricted by an upper leg injury, but Gonzalez' ripping forehands and consistent serve would have given even a healthy Nadal a run for his money.
Haas and Gonzalez have met just once _ Gonzalez won in straight sets, the second in a tiebreaker on clay at the World Team Cup in 2004.
Haas, who underwent right rotator cuff surgery in December 2002 _ several months after reaching a career-high ranking of No. 2 _ and had arthroscopic surgery on the same shoulder in July 2003, has been coached by former Swedish pro Thomas Hogstedt since December 2005.
He was No. 46 in the rankings at the end of 2005, but moved up to No. 11 at the end of last year.
His path to the semifinals has been slightly easier _ three unseeded players in the first three rounds _ than Gonzalez, prompting a question about him perhaps sneaking under the radar.
"I just go out there, mind my own business, trying to improve my game, play tough," said Haas. "If I do that, I think I've still got a lot of good game in me. If I can stay injury-free, I can enjoy this game for many more years."
Haas realizes he's running into a very hot Gonzalez.
"Fernando has obviously got a pretty nasty serve, the big forehand, he's moving well," said Haas. "Seems like he's trying to use the court much better now that he's been getting some good help from his new coach."
Stefanki started working with Gonzalez in May of last year. The former American player also coached John McEnroe, Marcelo Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnkikov and Tim Henman, with Rios and Kafelnikov reaching the No. 1 ranking under his guidance.
Gonzalez says Stefanki has helped him develop a more all-court game, and to control his emotions.
"Now I'm trying to find the right opportunity and stay a little bit calm," said Gonzalez. "My ... hitting can be a bit crazy sometimes.
"My forehand is my best shot, is my weapon that normally I win or lose matches. But I've been working a lot on my slice, trying to leave the ball really low so I can come after with my shot."
On Thursday afternoon, under sunny skies on Court 17 at Melbourne Park, Stefanki and Gonzalez held an hour-long workout. In one drill, Gonzalez, using only sliced backhands to return, stood on the T-line while Stefanki tried to drill shots past him.
Before Gonzalez beat Nadal on Wednesday night, he sat in the stands at Rod Laver Arena watching Haas take five sets to beat Davydenko.
"Tommy is great player," said Gonzalez. "We have very similar games, one-hand backhand, baseline players, try to go in. I know it's going to be a tough match."
Federer said Haas' experience might give the German player the edge.
"Maybe Tommy because he's been here three times in the semifinals," said Federer. "He's had a bit more success over a long period of time, where maybe this is a big, big occasion for Fernando.
"But, again, he's tough, so I don't know who. I think it's about the same whoever I play in the finals for me, in terms of toughness."
Roddick, who was overwhelmed 6-4, 6-0, 6-2 by Federer, first replied "slim" when asked whether Haas or Gonzalez had a chance against Federer. But Roddick admitted Gonzalez is the form player.
"He (Gonzalez) has played great," said Roddick. "He's been real impressive, playing great. I think Roger's the overwhelming favorite, though."


Updated : 2021-01-28 16:42 GMT+08:00