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“Tennis needs to be quicker” – interview with Robin Haase

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Having lived nearly two decades of tennis career, Robin Haase is sure of one thing: “Rules need to change.”

The 35-year-old Dutchman with a past on the Players’ Council, reflects in this interview with CLAY that the sports needs to give more excitement to their fans.

How? By forgetting about waiting times. “If I would buy a ticket and wait 10 minutes in the line, I would be like “what is this? Spectators have to wait a lot, which doesn’t make any sense. Just go inside the stadium and sit down, leave whenever you want”.

More fun? Change the score and play best of fives up to four games each sets, like in the Next Gen Finals. “You win a set 6-4. Next set, the first game, the second, the third…is very boring. People go out and drink something. But now, you win 4-1 and next set you win your serve and break, you are pretty close to make another set. Much more exciting for fans but also tougher for the players”.

– How different is the young generation entering the tour compared to yours?

– In tennis, my generation and even the one before learned to play the ball in, and later it started to hit harder and harder. Nowadays what you see, is that players grow up hitting the ball as hard as they can. They go, go, go, and then start to learn how to not make many mistakes. It’s a different way of looking tennis. They just go for it, they don’t hold back. And also what you see is that surfaces have changed the last 20 years. Now it also doesn’t really matter if it’s hard court, clay or grass, because just the way of moving is a little different, but the bounces are similar. So that means that there are not many specialists. Not many serve and volleyers, or the real attacker, or the clay court players. Because in any court you kind of play the same game. It used to be more variety, but you can see younger players are adding things to their game. They get more dangerous and their game is evolving.

Interview with Robin Haase

Toni Nadal says that tennis is in a worst level than years ago. Do you agree? In your opinion, how is it now compared to your prime time?

– Depends how you look at it. Ten years ago you would have a really unbelievable top 20 or top 15. When going deep in Grand Slams they were only few surprises in the last 16. Now that top I would say is as not as strong as before. You had Roddick, Hewitt, Wawrinka, Davydenko, Nishikori. If you compare with now, it’s a little bit different. Toni is right, it’s a little bit weaker. But top one to 100, or 250; maybe even 400, is much stronger. The broader level of tennis is much better than it used to be. Now the guys that play challengers, they can do well on the ATP level. 10-15 years ago it was much easier to win a challenger. It’s pretty tough now.

– Increible, only two Grand Slams have been won by players now in their twenties. Is that generation mentally strong enough?

– If you make it to top 100 in the world, you are mentally very strong. When people say that a number 10 in the world is not mentally strong, they have not idea what they are talking about. If you are not mentally strong you wouldn’t be there. To win a Slam title, is something different, is true, it’s always more pressure. But Medvedev has won one, Thiem has won one. It’s changing. Yes, Djokovic and Nadal have been proving that they are still competing for this events, that they are still better than the rest, despite not being as dominating as they used to be, but is also normal because of the age.

– Will you still be a single player this season ?

– Singles ranking dropped really far. I’d still play as much as singles as I can, and then I have to see if I want to play just doubles. I’ve had a long career, 18 years, traveling is tough. Tennis has gave me a lot, but I’ve also missed a lot.

– Do you feel tired?

– In a way, because there are so many things outside tennis in life that I’m so much interested. I’ve always being involved in tennis, but I don’t know right now if I want to continue. Maybe one more season in doubles, but I don’t see myself many more years on tour. But also depends, if you have a partner and you can be ranked really high, let’s say top 20 in the world and have to play only 18 tournaments, then, ok. Why not? But you have to find a doubles partner that agrees with that way of thinking.

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– What kind of interests are the ones you have off court?

– During the pandemic I started three companies. One was in art, but more like a hobbie. Pop art, street art. We wanted to put more sculptures in galleries. Tennis and art colliding. I also have a company in virtual reality. I’m not really a gamer, I don’t even play much Playstation, but I do believe the world, the future in gaming lies in virtual reality, so I invested in that. And then the other business that I have, is in limited and rare spirits. Whisky and Rhum.

Robin Haase
Robin Haase showing a photo of one of his hobbies: the art bussiness // SEBASTIAN VARELA

– How would you stay around tennis? Doing business? Coaching?

– I did a coaching course, so I have my certificate. I don’t wanna travel 30 weeks again. If I could find a part-time way, like becoming Davis Cup, where you can travel 10-12 weeks, some of them in the Netherlands, that would be great. Also I’d like to help young players once in a while. Coaching is not easy if you have someone on a daily basis. I hear a lot: “You are such a good coach”. I say, well, is easy, because people know me, so whatever I say is already fine, people is happy that I tell them something. I give them one thing they can work on. But, what about the second day? The third? The day 245? What are you gonna say? That part of coaching is underestimated by tennis players. Is not that easy. My strength should be helping everybody a little bit, instead of focusing in one player as that would interfere on my interests in life.

– What did you learn in the coaching course?

– Quality is more important than quantity. The course refreshed me so much stuff I found very interesting and important. One of the things a lot of coaches do wrong, is when you feed balls and you want to concentrate on something, coaches feed you 20 balls in a row. That’s another energy system that gives you fatigue. And it is boring. Is better to do it 4-5 times and then relax. Go again with 4-5 more.

– You are the type of tennis player that doesn’t only spend your time around hotels, tennis clubs and airports.

– Yeah. The younger generation spend more time in their phones, they bring PlayStations, they eat more in the hotel. I like to eat out every day to see things from the city. I go to museums, a Broadway show. Is more important for me to learn from the cultures, and also shut down a bit from tennis. In New York I visited Williamsburg, I took the metro, it’s nice.

– Do you get to organize your calendar according to the places you want to see?

– No, that goes a bit too far. I’d love to, but then you start making choices not based on your tennis and at the end tennis goes first. When I go to a restaurant, I have on my mind I have a match the next day, so choosing the right food is important. Other restaurants can wait till I’m out of the tournament. But I love to see the environment. I’d love to play more the South America tour, but there is Rotterdam there.

– You played there one year.

– Unfortunately not the best memories. I started in Buenos Aires, it rained for three days. I beat Carlos Berlocq and then I got injuried. Had to skip Rio and finally I was feeling better for Sao Paulo, but I lost in first round to Brazilian Souza and went home, so it was the worst trip.

– Do you like the electronic line call system or do you miss the human factor?

– Hawk eye system was very entertaining. Players could have the challenges and people loved it. Now there is no interaction for the crowd. Technique went too fast. So yes, is the future, but challenges system could have last longer. If you look at tennis, the sport is the only entertainment. Theres not much after that. No music, no more for the crowds. Spectators have to wait a lot, which doesn’t make any sense. Just go inside the stadium and sit down. You could make exceptions, maybe the firsts rows they have to wait, but the rest? Just enter and leave whenever you want. Move around freely. If I would buy a ticket and wait 10 minutes in the line, I would be like “what is this?” So I think we should evolve. Rules need to change.

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– Like what other rules?

– It doesn’t make any sense to play a let on the serve. The only argument you can give is tradition. All the arguments to not have it are much better. Like in volleyball. If I hit a good serve that barely touches the net but it’s an ace, I have to play a let. Why? It is a great serve! If I touch the net and it goes really up and the returner has an easy shot, people say: “Yeah should be a let”. No, why? Is a bad serve. Three: the machine coast a lot of money. Four: the machine doesn’t work well. Sometimes sounds when it doesn’t touch, sometimes doesn’t sound when it touches. So many arguments! And the biggest one: people don’t understand it. In Grand Slams, when most people come, people has no idea what is happening. No let in the rally, so why is it at first serve? Just play!

– Do you think tennis is boring?

– Not boring, but it needs to be a little bit quicker and more exciting. What is funnier to watch? Three sets up to 6, or 5 sets up to 4? It’s not shorter. One of the rules that have been tested in the Next Gen Finals. Why I think we should play up to 4? You win a set 6-4. Next set, the first game, the second, the third…is very boring. People go out and drink something. But now, you win 4-1 and next set you win your serve and break, you are pretty close to make another set. Much more exciting for fans but also tougher for the players. Because now players sometimes don’t care much about the first games on the set. Imagine you won the first set, then you are one all. Other guy serving 40-15. They are sometimes like “that point doesn’t matter”. But when you know the set is up to 4, you don’t have much chances to break, you better want to play that shot and win that game. I’m not saying we should change it now, but we can experience more.

– Would you change the Grand Slams?

– No. Best of five, people love it. The Masters 1000? Many spectators buy tickets because all the players are coming, they are not in trouble. But the 250? They are struggling, they pay actually the most money but they don’t have so much revenue. Let them have something different. Let them have best of five up to four and give people more excitement.

– How long since you started to have this ideas?

– I had these ideas since 15 years ago. I have a map at home with all these suggestions, the time I was in the council. In Challengers, players use four balls instead of 6. Why? It is not too expensive to have six like in the ATP. The ball doesn’t cost much more. If you play with four, they get wasted faster. That means when you change to new balls, its even harder to control them. But also, Challengers is part of the ATP Tour, so how can you not have the same situation.

– How the relationship between media and players have changed along the years?

– In tennis more money is involved, more pressure is involved. Managers, coaches, they want to protect the players. Even managers they don’t protect them anymore, but they kind of keep them away so they can control certain situations. Therefore, the players don’t know always what is going on. What I think, in the Netherlands, journalist are carrying more responsibilities. 15 years ago, someone was covering only tennis. Now, the same journalist has to cover also football and volleyball. So, he doesn’t travel anymore, won’t show the same interest anymore because he needs to do so many other things. That means we see each other only once a year, we got the same questions. There is a disconnection. A problem from both sides. It also changed a lot with social media, where players can communicate to their fans.

 

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