October 9, 2017

Robin Haase

(info about Robin Haase)

The right moves on the court

Thomas Kieller

Photos – Copyright Jan-Willem de Lange

Robin Haase: Enjoying the moment.

Passionate about sports, Robin performs on the tennis courts with his efficient serve and powerful forehands. One can say that the man from The Hague in the Netherlands is an all-round player especially on the technical aspect. With his comprehension of tennis, he knows how to take advantage of a situation. Like a chess player, he analyzes the game in order to find the winning moves. He is on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour since 12 years where he already played more than 600 matches in singles and doubles. However, he went also through some tough moments. Indeed, some injuries came bothering him. In 2008-09, a problem to his knee forced him to leave the courts for 14 months. Refusing to throw the towel, he worked hard to get back in form. In 2010, he was voted ATP Comeback Player of the Year for his return on the Tour. Over time, his efforts were rewarded with two victories in singles at the tournament of Kitzbühel, Austria in 2011 and 2012. As for doubles, he was crowned champion in Marseille, France in 2011 and in Gstaad, Switzerland in 2014. Besides that, he has represented his country 11 times at the Davis Cup and twice at the Olympic Games. It remains that with his determination and experience, Robin will fight again and again to reach the highest steps of the tennis world like he has done at the 2017 Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada. There he battled in the semi-finals of this ATP World Tour Masters 1,000 tournament. An awesome result!

The phone-interview took place on September 27, 2017 at 14:10 when Robin was in Belgium. It was done in English.

Training of a tennis player

Thomas Kieller: You have a powerful serve and also an accurate one. How did you progress concerning this aspect of the game?

Robin Haase: When I was young, I was really little. I started to grow up when I was around 16 years old. At the beginning, I did not have a good serve. I could not hit fast because I was just too small, but I developed a good kick serve that way. I remember that I was trying not to be in a neutral position, but I wanted to use my upper hand when serving. Then, when I grew and got very tall, I started to serve harder. There was a time when I questioned myself on how I should serve: standing with two legs still or taking a step with the right leg. Anyway, when you find your rhythm and the way you like to serve, it’s when you start improving the details. You can practice more your accuracy and you can try to get the right angles. Besides, you have to work on your serve on a daily basis. One of the things which helped me a lot is when I was warming up my shoulders. I was already aiming the spot where I wanted to hit the ball. So, it gives you an extra 10 to 15 serves where you aim. I believe it helps for my serve accuracy.

Thomas: During training, what do you do to improve your service on court or outside the court?

Robin: Outside the court, I would say not that much. The training I do is more about preservation and staying healthy. Every time you serve, you have to make sure that your shoulder is in the right place. It’s what I’m trying to do because you don’t want to have a misbalanced body. Besides, I’m not working so much on getting stronger or to serve faster. I’m 30 years old now and I serve the way I do. There is not a lot of space left to improve my speed.

Thomas: So, the serve depends a lot on the skill of the player…

Robin: Well, it depends a little bit also on what kind of server you are and how tall you are. Actually, I don’t serve as big as other players do. Speed wise, I will say that I am below average nowadays. However, one of my skills is that my serve is tougher to read then other players. I don’t give away information by the way I stand or the way I throw the ball. This way, I can hit a lot of aces because players don’t know where I will serve.

Thomas: Are you a guy who likes to train in a gymnasium and what do you do there for your strength and physical condition?

Robin: Not that much anymore. All the exercises I do are more about avoiding injuries. I will work on stability and of course I work a little bit on my strength. However, I do not train in the gym to get bigger and to get really stronger. I try to get faster and I try to stay agile. I have been playing on the ATP Tour for the last 12 years and I have the same weight. Every time I tried to build muscles it did not really work. Well, I have in a way a little mistake in my DNA. I don’t absorb all the proteins that I eat. And as we know, we need the proteins to get bigger muscles. If I may compare, you need pillars to make the house strong. It’s the same for the body which needs the proteins. In the past, I tried some strength training but it was not really working and actually I was getting slower! So, I told myself, let’s try a different way. Now, I do more exercises with the jumping rope and things like this. It helped me actually a lot.

Thomas: Of course, as a tennis player you train on the court. Is there a surface (clay, carpet, grass or hard court) where it’s better for you to train your strokes like the forehands and backhands?

Robin: It really depends on which tournament you will play next. In the off-season, you practice on hard courts because you start the season on this surface. After the tournament of Miami, you start to practice on clay. Still, you will practice more your strokes on hard courts because most of the season is on that type of court. However, you practice the way you play. So, if your style of playing is based more on topspin it means that on clay it will help you a little bit more than on grass. In the end, you practice in a way that it will help you for every type of surface.

Thomas: And what kind of exercises do you do for the cardio-respiratory system?

Robin: Because I have a bad knee, I don’t run as much and cycling is also not that great. So, when I’m in the gym, I will do for example eight different exercises in a row that I do very quickly. After those exercises, I rest for one minute and then I start again. I do this six to eight times. This will help you gain a better physical conditioning.

Thomas: Do you do something else for cardio like swimming?

Robin: Swimming is also not that good for me because of my knee. It’s tough for me to swim. Of course, sometimes I jog and I’m on the bicycle but not as much as when I was 18 years old. Nowadays, when I go for a run, I go into the woods or in a park. I like to run outside and do something there. I would say that it’s not a big percentage of the work I do. However, when I do it, it is a little bit different and it’s fun.

Thomas: Still, you have a good defensive play. You can recover the ball down the line quite well. Is this something that you work a lot on with your coach Raymond Knaap?

Robin: Actually no. It’s a part of the game that I have naturally. Like I said, when I was young, I was very little. All the guys were stronger and hit harder than me. So, I was defending more at that time. It’s like a second nature for me and it’s something I don’t really have to work on. Now, we are working more on my offensive game and I try to hit the ball a little bit bigger. The funny thing is that in the top 100 players, if we sprint for 20 to 30 meters, I think I’m in the top five slowest players on the Tour. However, I can read the game very well. It’s actually because of this reason that I can defend and recover a lot of balls.

Thomas: On another aspect, you had your share of injuries during your career. In 2008, you had a knee surgery and I believe it took you one and half years to recover. Was it tough psychological speaking to go through a situation like that and to train again?

Robin: It was a really tough period because at that time I was considered a player of the next generation. I was playing really well and my body was letting me down. It was a pity... but every day I was trying to do my best and getting back in form as soon as possible. It was tough and at a certain point I didn’t know if I was going to play again. So yes, mentally it was really difficult and I even cried two or three times. It took a lot of energy from me, both mentally and physically.

Anyway, I came back and I played well very quick. The knee never got back to what it should be. I have some pain every single day. I had a lot of other injuries because of the knee and I struggled physically from 2012 to 2015. However, I accepted this situation and I can deal with it much better now.

Robin Haase: A serve during the tournament of Gstaad, Switzerland.

Preparing for a match and attitude on the court

Thomas: Do you elaborate a strategy with your coach depending on who you play?

Robin: Yes, I always analyze the player against whom I will play. I try to look him up on the Internet. Then, if I already played against this player before, I will check what I have written down concerning him. I have a book where I keep information concerning other players: like five things the player likes, what he does not like and what is a good tactic against him.

Also, a day before the match, I will talk with my coach and he will give me advice on one or two little things. The rest I do it myself. I’m like a chess player who analyzed the situation. I like to do this because I believe I’m good concerning the tactic to use.

Thomas: Really interesting. If you play against a high ranked player like in the top 10, are you going to be more aggressive in your style of playing?

Robin: It really depends on who I’m playing. Against one player, you may play more rallies. With another one, you will attack him. The third one, you will play more slice balls. The fourth one, your strategy may be more focused on defence. So, it really depends against whom you play.

Thomas: In tennis, a lot can happen in a match which can destabilize a player like a bad call of the chair umpire or the way an opponent plays. We know that on a given day a player might not be at the top of his game. If we consider those factors, is the mental aspect an important factor for the success of a player and how do you manage this?

Robin: It’s probably the biggest factor. The mental side of the game is really an important thing in tennis. Everyone can play. If I played one day against the 800th ranked player, I can lose against him because he can play. However, that guy may only play that well once a year or he believes he cannot play that good every time. The mental aspect is really important if we consider the travelling, the daily practices and the discipline one must have. You might miss your family and friends. Also, you have to deal with the pressure and may be with some bad press. All those things have an impact psychologically. In the past, I had a physical trainer, a tennis coach and also I worked with a mental coach. Now, I’m doing all this with my coach Raymond Knaap. He is my tennis coach, but he is also my life coach.

Thomas: Thank you Robin for the tennis input and for your time.

Robin: Ok. Bye bye.