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Muster Overpowers Chang at French Open Final

By William Drozdiak
Washington Post Foreign Service
June 12, 1995

PARIS, JUNE 11 -- When Michael Chang was making history here six years ago in becoming the youngest player to win a Grand Slam title, Thomas Muster was watching enviously and wondering if he would ever play top-flight tennis again, let alone fulfill his childhood dream of winning the French Open.

Muster was nearly crippled in March 1989, when a drunk driver plowed into him only hours after he had advanced to the final of the Lipton International in Key Biscayne, Fla. The accident severed Muster's knee ligaments and threatened to put an end to his career.

But today, the man known as the "Terminator" capped one of sport's great comebacks by overpowering Chang, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4, before a packed house of 17,000 at Roland Garros Stadium. In winning the world's premier clay-court tournament, Muster became the first Austrian to capture a Grand Slam and stretched his winning streak on clay to six titles and 35 matches.

As he accepted the Musketeer's Trophy on Center Court, Muster, 27, recalled that when he was learning the game, he would imagine each winning point as a victory at the French Open. "As a kid I used to dream about holding this trophy. It's a wonderful feeling to see the dream come true today," Muster said, blinking back tears of elation.

It was Muster's fourth victory over Chang in as many tries, but it did not come easily. The 23-year-old American started the match in brilliant form, driving Muster back on his heels and befuddling him as he went up 5-2.

"I was already thinking of the second set," Muster said. "It didn't look good for me. But then he started missing and I tried to put more pressure on him by moving up to the net, and things started to break my way."

Chang found it hard to regain his early momentum as Muster suddenly became energized. "From 5-2 on, the tide swung quite a bit," Chang said. "I think a few errors started creeping into my game, and Thomas started playing better tennis, and the combination hurt me quite a bit."

After squandering his advantage and dropping the first set, Chang suffered a letdown as Muster recovered his groove and employed his aggressive style to hit the corners repeatedly. Chang was left shaking his head and his hands in frustration as he fell behind by two sets.

"I'm more of a thinking player than anything else," Chang said. "That's what I was doing at the time, thinking things through a bit, trying to see what Thomas was doing well, and see what I wasn't doing well. That's pretty much what I do between points or on the changeovers."

In the third set, Chang seemed to regain his confidence and took the lead before Muster broke back with devastating ground strokes to even the set at 4. Even then, Chang was fighting hard and tried to prevent Muster from closing out the match. But the Terminator was in a terminal mode.

"I don't think the match was totally one-sided," Chang said. "I don't look at anybody as being unbeatable. Everyone has certain strengths and certain weaknesses.

"I got off to a pretty good start and just wasn't able to keep things going. I think I did have my opportunities, and there were chances to get myself back in the match. But you've got to give Thomas credit. He's been playing great tennis for the last couple of months."

Although Chang plans to join other players in starting preparations to adjust his game to the slick grass surface of Wimbledon, which opens July 1, Muster said he wants to take a few weeks off and savor his string of triumphs as the reigning king of clay.

Muster's game usually suffers at the hands of the game's top serve-and-volley hitters who love fast surfaces, so he admits he is not even going to bother entertaining the fantasy of consecutive Grand Slam victories on the fast courts of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

While acknowledging that he is a classic clay-court specialist -- having won all but one of his 29 career titles on Europe's pulverized brick surfaces -- Muster said he still plans to enter a number of tournaments because he is driven by his ambition to make up the tournaments he believes he could have won had it not been for the accident in Florida.

"I'll play a lot in the second half of the year because my ambition is to move up in the rankings," he said. "I won't sit and rest until I do that. I always believed I would have finished in the top five in 1989 if it were not for the accident. Now I want to prove that I can do it, even if I am a lot older and starting to lose all my hair."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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