Originally created 01/24/02

Haas makes a fine art of the comeback



MELBOURNE, Australia -- Tommy Haas has made it to the Australian Open semifinals, coming back in one match after another. That might not be so easy against his next opponent, Marat Safin.

Haas beat former No. 1 Marcelo Rios 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5) in a quarterfinal Wednesday night. He saved break points in five early games and rallied from one service break down in two sets.

In two previous rounds, Haas rebounded from 2-1 deficits in sets to beat Todd Martin and 11th-seeded Roger Federer.

On Friday, the seventh-seeded German faces ninth-seeded Safin, the 2000 U.S. Open champion.

Safin, who squelched a comeback bid by Pete Sampras in the fourth round, needed only 28 minutes to advance to the semifinals when Wayne Ferreira quit with an abdominal strain. Safin was leading 5-2.

In the other semifinal, No. 16 Thomas Johansson plays No. 26 Jiri Novak on Thursday night. Both are in their first Grand Slam semifinals, after 23 attempts by Novak and 25 by Johansson.

In Thursday's women's semifinals, defending champion Jennifer Capriati plays fourth-seeded Kim Clijsters, the French Open runner-up, and four-time Australian Open champion Monica Seles meets three-time champion Martina Hingis.

Haas said he will have to serve well again and make Safin play a lot of balls.

"He's a very powerful player, a young kid who is very hungry to play, already won a Grand Slam, he's been No. 1 in the world," Haas said. "He played a great match against Pete and it's going to be tough."

Sampras was trying for his 14th Grand Slam tournament title.

Haas also reached the Australian Open semifinals in 1999, and lost to another Russian, Yevgeny Kafelnikov. In other Grand Slam events, he has yet to pass the fourth round.

Rios might have been the semifinalist, Haas said, if he had done better on his break point chances in the first two sets.

"I seemed to save them pretty well with my serves," he added.

"I was also quite frustrated when he actually broke me, so I seemed to play a really good game right after that to get the break back, which gave me confidence."

Rios was serving for the first set at 5-4 when Haas broke him for the first time.

"If I win that first set, it's a totally different match," Rios said. "And I was a break up in the fourth, and I couldn't keep winning my serve. He just played better in the important moments."

Haas gained key points against Rios' serve in the first-set tiebreaker on a double fault by the Chilean and a backhand winner, going ahead 5-2. Another backhand winner gave him the only service break of the second set.

In the final tiebreaker, a wide, low backhand gave him a 5-1 lead, and his 22nd ace, at 127 mph, made it 6-2. Three points later, Rios netted a backhand to end the 3-hour, 17-minute match.

Rios, who was No. 1 in 1998, the same year he was Australian Open runner-up, hit some dazzling winners and some surprising misses.

"I didn't play that bad, but I didn't play consistent," he said.

Rios has been troubled by injuries, and underwent surgery on his left ankle last June, the same month daughter Constanza was born.

The baby and Rios' wife, Juliana, were in the stands at the start of the match but left when Constanza began crying. Haas said he heard the baby during a long rally, "and then she was quite nice to leave, so it was OK."

Safin said that against Haas, "you just stay and fight and run, and take your chances."

The 21-year-old Russian had back problems early last year and then "I couldn't find my game at all."

"It's depressing, it's difficult, and you have to spend a lot of hours just practicing, practicing. It doesn't come, it doesn't come," he said.

But, he added, "it seems like it's coming right now. I never gave up."