Muster finally slips on the grass

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The Independent Online
As one of the purest and most successful of the European clay- court players, Thomas Muster once dismissed the grass of Wimbledon as a surface for cows. After deciding this year to make a serious run at the All England club in the hope of winning the first match of his career there, the 28-year-old hard man of tennis joked that part of his training would include "eating grass".

While the tactic may not have been followed to the letter, the Austrian went a long way this week towards proving himself a threat on the "alien surface". But his progress was halted in yesterday's semi-final at the Stella Artois. The world No 2, who has surprised experts by his skilled performance during the week's build-up to Wimbledon, was beaten in three sets by the Swede Stefan Edberg, one of the grass masters.

Edberg, the 14th seed, fought back after losing the first set to triumph, 6-7 6-3 6-2. That victory mirrored one of Muster's new-found habits this week - the comeback. The 30-year-old Edberg, who will retire from the game after the Stockholm Open in November, played a loose opening set peppered with four breaks of serve.

His natural grass game began to shine through as the contest wore on, and Muster's comfort levels began to drop. In the end, the serve-and-volley ace earned his first final on the ATP Tour in 11 months, following on from Washington in July 1995.

"I really got going in the second set," said Edberg, a six-time Grand Slam winner who won his last title in January, 1995. "My break for 5-3, despite three forehand errors in the game, made the difference. In the third set I got some free points." The enthusiastic Edberg added: "I'm eager, hungry and want to win badly on grass."

Muster, the 1995 French Open champion, now heads for Halle, Germany - for his second event in as many weeks on grass - with a new respect for the surface. "I'm leaving with a positive feeling," said the clay court specialist, who added that he would be disappointed if he is not seeded in the top four by the Wimbledon committee. "If they choose not to follow the ATP Tour rankings, then we should have rankings for different surfaces."

A week highlighted by three grass-court victories - the only ones he has managed in tour tennis - will not be easily forgotten by Muster. "When I come back in a week to play at Wimbledon, I'll be prepared like I've never been before on the grass. I've played better every day. If you had asked someone about Muster on grass before this week, he might have said, 'nothing much'. But now, I've heard some voices saying that Muster is not so bad. I think that I can get respect on grass, but it will never be my favourite surface."

Edberg complimented his opponent. "He hits the ball hard and can play on grass," said the Swede. "He believes that he can play on grass now. I had to work hard to beat him." Edberg will face Boris Becker, who beat the South African Wayne Ferreira 7-6 6-4, in today's final.