Based on what’s underway this week at the Miami Open, the plot line is familiar: a tenacious lefthander, long dominant on clay, now seeks to win a big title that, much to his frustration, has eluded him.
But the subject is NOT Rafael Nadal.
Long before Nadal entered the picture, there was Thomas Muster. Muster, along with Guillermo Vilas, is Nadal’s stylistic ancestor, a forceful and punishing lefthande. Like Nadal, Muster was exceptionally adept on clay, at once dictator and sadist, competing with the fervor of a dog in heat, his game anchored by his lacerating forehand. Winner at Roland Garros in 1995, Muster in 1996 was ranked number one in the world for six weeks.
Head back now to 1989. In those days, all matches in Miami were best-of-five sets. This naturally suited Muster’s attrition-based playing style. His biggest reward came in the semis, Muster rallying from two sets to love down to beat Yannick Noah, 6-2 in the fifth. Having won all five of his previous ATP World Tour singles titles on clay, Muster was eager to prove himself a man for all surfaces.
But that evening, as Muster opened the trunk of his car, a drunken driver slammed into Muster’s car – an accident that tore ligaments in his left knee. Forced to withdraw from the final, Muster was off the tour until September. Moreover, for years, the question lingered: Could Muster’s body withstand a long effort on the hardcourts? From 1990 to ’96, Muster won 37 singles titles. Only two were not on clay.
In 1997, though, Muster began the year with a title run on the hard courts of Doha. There followed a semi at Indian Wells. In Miami, it all came together. Failing to drop a set in his last five matches, Muster took out a troupe of accomplished veterans – Tommy Haas, Alex Corretja, Jonas Bjorkman, Jim Courier and, in the finals, 20 years ago today, Sergi Bruguera.
It was Muster’s 44th career singles title – and the last of his career.