Two players who honed their game in Florida under famed coach Nick Bollettieri would contest a final that went down to the wire.
In 2002, Tommy Haas had risen to No. 2 in the world. But before he could make that big push for the top spot, his life took a dramatic turn, with his parents getting in a serous motorcycle accident, compounded with the arrival of the first significant injury of his career. He was off the tour for all of 2003, but in ’04, returned and won two titles. The following year, though, while posting some solid results, he failed to make a final.
He started 2006 ranked No. 47 in the world, but after his first two tournaments of the year, he was up to No. 30 and entered the Delray Beach as the fourth seed. Continuing his solid start to the year, he advanced to his first final in nearly two years.
Waiting for him in the title match was fellow Nick Bolletieri alum Xavier Malisse. The “X-Man” was the defending champion, having won his first career event in 2005 after six career finals. Malisse’s also hit his career-high ranking in 2002 (No. 19), the year he made the semifinals at Wimbledon. While the All-England Club was the site of his biggest Grand Slam achievement, Malisse had his most success in Delray as 2006 marked his fourth appearance in the final.
The match started out on even ground through the players’ first four service games. However, after 2-all, it was Haas’ time as he took four of the next five games to win the set 6-3. That was a bad sign for Malisse: In the seven finals he’d lost to that point, including one earlier in 2006 in Adelaide, he’d dropped the first frame.
The stadium at Delray Beach was practically Malisse's home court and after a 3-3 score in the second set, he won the next three games to even the match.
Haas and Malisse played even throughout the third, exchanging breaks late before getting into a tiebreak. Haas went up by a mini-break early, leading 4-1 at one point. He earned two match points, but Malisse erased the first one. On the second one, the two got into an extended rally until bad luck struck: Malisse’s string broke and his forehand sailed long, giving Haas his eighth career title.
Through his first three tournaments of 2006, Haas had lost two matches: one in the fourth round of the Australian Open and the other in the semifinals in Doha. His conqueror both times? None other than Roger Federer.
In seven appearances in Delray Beach up to 2006, Malisse’s complied an overall record of 20-6, the best of any other player in the event’s history.