Muster, Thomas

Muster, Thomas
▪ 1996

      With his 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Michael Chang of the U.S. in the final of the 1995 French Open, Thomas Muster, the first Austrian ever to win a Grand Slam tournament, joined the elite of the tennis world. Perhaps more impressive than his rise to stardom, however, was the fact that he could even play professional tennis; six years earlier a drunken driver had nearly ended his career.

      Muster was born on Oct. 2, 1967, in Leibnitz, Austria. After finishing 10th in the 1984 world junior rankings, he turned pro in 1985. Four tournament titles in 1988 raised his world ranking to 16th. On a March night in 1989, having just defeated Yannick Noah of France to advance to the finals of the Lipton International in Key Biscayne, Fla., and poised to solidify a spot in the top 10, Muster was unloading gear from the trunk of his car when it was struck in the front by another car. The rear bumper hit Muster's left knee, severing the ligaments. Surgery repaired the knee, but Muster's ability to play professional tennis—or even walk comfortably—was uncertain.

      Determined to return to the game, Muster, with the help of his coach, Ronald Leitgeb, designed a special chair from which he could hit tennis balls while his leg healed. Within six months Muster was back on the tour, and he finished the year ranked 21st in the world. With his career back on track, he began to establish a pattern: except for a 1990 title on the hard-court surface at Adelaide, Australia, every tournament he won was played on clay, where the slower pace of the game seemed to lessen the disadvantage of his weakened knee. He finished 1990 ranked seventh in the world, but his mastery of the clay court was just beginning. His 1995 victory over Chang in Paris extended his clay-court winning streak to 35 matches, and he would carry that string to 40, third best in the Open era, behind Bjorn Borg (44) and Guillermo Vilas (53). Success in the French Open also lifted Muster to his highest ranking ever, third in the world, which was where he would finish the season after winning a record 12 titles on the Association of Tennis Professionals tour, the last one coming at the Eurocard Open in Essen, Germany, for his first-ever win indoors.

      Though he won more than $2.5 million in prize money, Muster's 1995 season was not without its negative moments. Many observers questioned his resolve when he chose—presumably to preserve his high ranking—not to compete at Wimbledon, where he had lost in the first round in each of his four previous appearances. Near the end of the 1995 season, however, Muster announced that he planned to play at Wimbledon in 1996. (ANTHONY G. CRAINE)

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Universalium. 2010.

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