reports from Essen
Thomas Muster may have amassed pounds 4m in prize money - pounds 1.54m for the year - but he was simply happy to have a roof over his head yesterday. The Austrian left-hander finally won his first indoor singles title, the Eurocard Open, to add to 33 triumphs on clay and one on concrete.
"That leaves only one surface more, which is grass court," said Muster, who has not won a match in four visits to Wimbledon and who gave the All England Club a miss after winning the French Open in June. He announced his intention to return to the lawns of SW19 next year and also to play a warm-up event - "but that doesn't mean I will plant grass in my living room.''
Yesterday, the world No 3 defeated MaliVai Washington, 7-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, the American having made a major impact on the tournament considering that he arrived with a ranking of No 54 and would have had to qualify but for an injury to the Australian Pat Rafter.
It was Muster's 12th singles title of the year, a record only surpassed by Ivan Lendl (15 in 1982) and Guillermo Vilas (14 in 1977).
The match was a repetition of a first-round contest in Vienna the previous week, Muster having advanced there only to lose for the third time in the final of an indoor event in his country's capital.
Washington's prospects of emulating the Belgian Filip Dewulf began to evaporate after the second set of a final which provided an entertaining climax to the tournament - just as well, seeing that Washington eliminated Andre Agassi, the world No 1, in the third round and Muster defeated Pete Sampras, the world No 2, in the semi-finals.
The 28-year-old Muster has been able to adapt his pulverising baseline style to suit the faster surfaces, although the carpet court now used for the Eurocard Open is nothing like as slick as it was three years ago. In 1992, Goran Ivanisevic hit a staggering 105 aces in five matches to win the title. Muster's total was 16.
" is not just about serve and volley," Muster said. "I may not seem good because of my style and the way I look, but on the court I am better than I look.''
The Austrian's only complaint came in the sixth game of the second set, after he had forged a third break point in an effort to prevent Washington from taking a 4-2 lead. Muster was poised to convert it when a spare ball dropped from Washington's pocket and the umpire called a let. "It's a stupid rule," the Austrian said later. "If a ball drops from your pocket you should automatically lose the point, because it's your fault.''
Washington, who served 15 aces yesterday and 61 for the week, was 3-1 down in the third set when the last chance came to swing the match his way. Muster netted a forehand from close range to present his opponent with a break point, but then snatched it away with a smash.
The American held on until the seventh game of the fourth set, when his attempt at a smash ended in the net. He then overhit a forehand on the break point. Three games later, Muster was blowing kisses to the crowd before collecting a cheque for pounds 210,000, with pounds 100,000 less going to Washington.
"I feel a little tired after playing last week and here," said Muster, who wore a support for a strained left thigh throughout the tournament. "It's more difficult than playing my natural game on clay," he added. "I have to put a lot more effort into it.''
Coming from Muster, that was quite a statement. As the promoter, Ion Tiriac, observed: "Muster is a player I respect very much for his killing dedication.''
Britain's Tim Henman produced the finest display of his career to win the ATP Challenger in Seoul yesterday. The 21-year-old British No 4 beat Italy's Vincenzo Santopadre 6-2, 4-6, 6-4. Henman, ranked 137 in the world, should take a step nearer his end-of-year target of a place in the top 100.