In Her Sixth WTA Linz, Haas Glad She Can Play At Home

WASHINGTON/LINZ, November 11, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Upper Austria favorite Barbara Haas finally gets her chance to play at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz WTA tournament on Wednesday on the third day of the main draw in the second to last first-round match.

The 24-year-old wild card entry, who was born in Linz and resides in Steyr, Upper Austria’s third largest city, will play on Centre Court inside Tips Arena Linz against fifth seed Veronica Kudermetova of Russia, who is ranked 46th.

At 148th in the world, the diminutive 5-foot-4-inch Haas is the highest-ranked Austrian woman in this year’s Upper Austria Ladies Linz draw – the only one from her country ranked in the Top 200 – and just one of two Austrians in the 32-player main draw along with wild card Julia Grabher, ranked No. 225, who retired from her first-round match Tuesday with Sorana Cirstea of Romania in the first set with a right ankle injury.

This year, in her sixth appearance at the Upper Austria Ladies Linz, Haas’ expectations are high. She comes in with a modest 8-8 win-loss record while Kudermetova is 17-14 and was a semifinalist at Hobart in January and a quarterfinalist at Ostrava three weeks ago. The two have faced each other once, earlier this year in the first round of qualifying at Brisbane, won by Kudermetova, 7-5, 6-3.

“Yes, of course, I hope to have a very strong tournament,” said the right-handed Haas, who made her WTA main draw debut five years ago in Linz and has been coming back to her home tournament ever since – despite never having won a main draw match. “It’s nice to have a home tournament. I’ve been practicing a lot and I’m ready to hopefully play some good matches.”

Her first opponent, Kudermetova, 23, is Russia’s fourth highest-ranked player, who is eighth on tour with 126 aces. Haas comes in 0-1 against Top 50 players over the past year. It’s been 43 days since her last match, at Roland Garros against Hsieh Su-Wei, which she lost 6-3, 7-6 (1). The last time she contested a match on hard court was 70 days ago at the US Open, where she lost to finalist Victoria Azarenka, 6-1, 6-2, in the first round. So, Haas is definitely overdue for a win.

Haas has been ranked inside the Top 200 three of the past four years – starting from when she finished 2016 ranked No. 149 – and has been a steady presence on her country’s Fed Cup team since 2015, too. In 2016, she also made her first Grand Slam main draw at the US Open, losing in the first round to Timea Babos.

Among Haas’ career highlights, she’s reached two doubles finals. The first was last year at Linz with Xenia Knoll and at Hua Hin earlier this year with Ellen Perez. She also won 16 singles titles on the ITF World Tour circuit before becoming a regular on the WTA tour.

Away from the tennis court, Haas counts travel, reading, shopping and cooking among her hobbies. According to her bio on the WTA website, Haas’ favorite foods include kaiserschmarrn, a lightly-sweetened and scrambled dessert pancake and schnitzel, a thin slice of breaded meat that is fried in fat. Both are quite popular throughout Austria. Haas said she and the other Linz competitors have been enjoying “some very good Austrian food” at the tournament hotel during their stay in Upper Austria.

Earlier this week, Haas tested several of her fellow WTA tournament entrants, including No. 1 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and No. 2 seed Elise Mertens from Belgium, in Upper Austrian slang that drew plenty of smiles and more than a few bemused looks. Tournament organizers and the WTA released a video, which brought laugher to everyone. Among the words Haas taught them were: kaiserschmarrn and I geh schifoan (to the slopes).

On Sunday, during her virtual roundtable chat with international media, Haas comfortably answered questions first in German and later in English.

Tennis TourTalk asked Haas if there’s any extra pressure to do well playing in Linz, her home tournament. She said: “I think it’s extra pressure having all eyes on myself. On the other side, it’s very nice and beautiful to have a home tournament and my family, friends and sponsors will all be watching. I am glad I can compete at home.”

Should Haas be successful in pulling off an upset of Kudermetova, her second-round opponent would be 72nd-ranked Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, who advanced with a 6-4, 6-4 win over 86th-ranked Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia on Tuesday. She is in the same quarter of the draw as No. 2 seed Mertens, who likely would be a quarterfinal opponent.

“I think this is the sixth time I’ve played my home tournament in Linz,” Haas said, her voice full of optimism. “I’m definitely sure I’m the best version of myself in this year. I’m happy with my progress, but of course there is still a lot of work ahead of me. I hope I can reach my next goals.”