In 2012, Tommy Haas raised a few eyebrows. Nudged into the relative obscurity that befalls most players deemed to be approaching their last days on a tennis court, instead, Haas played his way to a year-end ranking of world No.21, defying his age and stage on the tour. It happened the way he hits his one-handed backhand, so gracefully that we almost didn't notice.
But in 2013, Haas sent the eyebrows into overdrive. Not only was he winning, he won tournaments. He caused upsets. With a 47-21 win-loss record, he covered the court like a man just starting out, full of verve and vigour. Not a 35-year-old father and husband who has been blighted by injury for much of his career.
"It's fun to continue to do what I really enjoy doing," Haas has said.
"It gets harder being away from the family, but at the same time who knows how much longer I have the chance to do this?
Fans, who rank last hurrah above underdog and favourite, flocked to watch the trademark backwards cap, the Hollywood hair, the one-hander of course, but the serve, the slice, the volleys too. "It's Tommy time," they yelled, as he upset Novak Djokovic in the fourth round in Miami last spring, going on to win titles in Munich and Vienna, and become the oldest man in the year-end top 20 since Andre Agassi in 2005. A quarter-final at Roland Garros and a fourth round at Wimbledon were not too shabby either.
He is of the Nick Bollettieri school of player, a former prodigy once marked out for Grand Slam glory, who broke through as a 19-year-old, and was ranked world No.2 in May 2002.
"I believe that Tommy has the type of game, that on any given day, he can beat the best of the lot," Bollettieri declared. "He plays offensive, he comes in, has a great slice, a big forehand, he volleys a lot."
But just as he began to mount an assault on the then world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt, Haas' parents were involved in a motorcycle crash that left his father in a coma. He missed six weeks on tour to look after his parents, and was then forced into shoulder surgery, an injury that lingered and lingered. He missed the entire 2003 season due to more surgery, and went under the knife for the third time in November 2007.
Haas sprained his ankle by stepping on a ball in the warm-up for his Wimbledon first-round match with Janko Tipsarevic in June 2005; in February 2010, he underwent season-ending right hip surgery, followed by elbow surgery.
Four years after the catalogue of repairs to his body finally halted, he begins this Australian Open as the world No.12. It's fairly bonkers, to be honest.
"Sometimes it's mind-boggling if you think about the fact that you're playing against a 19, 20-year-old and I'm 15 years older than this kid … that's crazy," Haas agreed.
"But you try to use your experience, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."
Whether Haas can keep going in the same vein in 2014 remains to be seen. It is asking a lot of a 35-year-old's body to compete week in, week out at the highest level of a sport that grows only more extreme from a physical perspective. But while his passion for tennis continues to fuel him forwards, he's not putting any time limit on his tennis. Not yet, anyway.
"If I can continue to stay healthy and feel like once I'm on the court I don't have any excuses, I'll carry on," he said.
Long may it last.