Bruguera falls as Muster hits his peak

TENNIS
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The Independent Online
Having been raised in a land of mountains, Thomas Muster surely knows better than to peak too soon. Even so, the Austrian's impressive 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, 6-3 triumph against Sergi Bruguera of Spain to win the Italian Open on a chilly day yesterday, made one wonder how much energy is left in reserve for the French Championships, which start next Monday.

Muster will go to Paris with five clay-court titles already to his name this season, and Bruguera became his 28th consecutive victim on the sport's slowest surface, a sequence stretching back to a defeat by another Spaniard, Emilio Sanchez, in Palermo last October.

The physical character of Muster's game has in the past cast doubt that he can sustain the momentum over seven matches played over the best of five sets in a Grand Slam championship. The nearest he has come to achieving this was a semi-final defeat by Andres Gomez in the semi-finals of the 1990 French Open.

That year Muster also went to Paris on the strength of a victory here at the Foro Italico, but he had not extended himself the way he has in recent months. On the other hand, there is little doubt that the range of the Austrian's game, combined with supreme fitness, has improved immensely since then. Bruguera, the holder of the French title for the past two years, experienced a timely reminder of that yesterday.

Boris Becker was so astonished at Muster's powers of recovery in the recent Monte Carlo Open final, having received hospital treatment following his semi-final, that he wondered if the Austrian was "a very good actor". If he is then he deserves an Oscar for the standard of his performances here this week, the highlight of which was a straight-sets demolition of Michael Chang, the 1989 French Open champion, in the quarter-finals.

Bruguera began confidently enough yesterday, winning the first three games and taking the first set in 41 minutes, having dominated the first part of a contest of hard hitting, fast running and quick thinking. Such was the power and intensity that the sight of a ball boy standing behind the clock board called up the image of a matador shielding himself from a couple of bulls.

Once Muster recovered after being broken for 3-4 in the second set, he gradually took control, winning the tie-break, 7-5. At this stage Bruguera began to show signs of weariness. He did, however, recover from 0-2 in the fourth set before Muster again raised the level of his performance.

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