Tennis: Draper exhausts ailing champion

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The Independent Online
Scott Draper could scarcely believe what he had achieved after trading shots with Thomas Muster, the master of clay courts, for nearly three hours in temperatures of more than 100F on the Centre Court at the Italian Open yesterday.

"I beat a player who's probably recognised as one of the best players in the world of all time," the 22-year-old Australian said after his 7- 6, 5-7, 7-5 victory. "The scary part is that I probably beat him physically and mentally."

Muster was hardly in a position to argue. The exhausted 29-year-old defending champion cancelled his media interview and returned to his hotel to rest on the instructions of the tournament doctor. Having had a stomach upset before the start of the match, Muster ended it in a state of severe dehydration.

The organisers of the Italian championships were nonplussed by a chain of results that has seen them lose the top three seeds in the opening two rounds, Muster, the No 3, having fallen in the second round 24 hours after the first-round eliminations of Pete Sampras and Michael Chang. Richard Krajicek, the fifth seed, was another second-round victim, the Wimbledon champion losing to Germany's Marc Goellner, 7-6, 7-6.

Draper is one of the most talented young players on the ATP Tour, a prospect who, during his formative years, dealt with comparisons to the great Rod Laver by pointing out that, flattered though he was, the only similarity he could think of was that they were both left-handers.

Muster is also a left-hander, which made yesterday's contest all the more fascinating. Even before his condition deteriorated, he was experiencing difficulty dealing with Draper's brilliant shot-making, particularly his backhand down the line.

Times have changed for Muster, whose two titles this year have been won on the concrete courts of Dubai and Key Biscayne, Florida. His record on clay-court matches over the previous two years was 115-5. Yesterday's defeat puts him at 4-5 for the season so far.

"It's funny what a week can do," Draper mused. "If you'd seen me play last week you'd have said: 'Who is this guy?' I'm not even close to being satisfied with my consistency. I've got to work on the mental side of my game. Some days I don't know how I'm going to play. I've just got to keep working on believing in myself and my game, and playing smart."

Muster managed to stave off seven break points in the final set, only to double-fault on the eighth for 5-6. Draper served out the match for the loss of only one point, raising his arms in triumph after Muster netted a backhand service return on the second match point.

Results, Digest, page 29

Mats Wilander, the Swedish former world No 1, and the Czech Karel Novacek have been banned for three months by the International Tennis Federation after withdrawing appeals against positive drug tests taken in 1995. Both players insist cocaine found in the tests was unknowingly consumed, but agreed that the urine samples are theirs and will take no further action.

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