Tennis: Muster summons determination to exact revenge on his No 1 source of embarrassment

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The Independent Online
Thomas Muster began his defence of the Dubai Duty Free Open title last night with a narrow victory against a familiar adversary, Sandon Stolle, who had embarrassed him on this same Centre Court two years ago on the occasion of Austrian's first outing as the world No 1.

Stolle, son of Fred, one of the great characters of the Australian game, fought for every point over two hours and 10 minutes before the 30-year- old Muster's perseverance edged the contest, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4.

Muster considered that his labours were not helped by an overrule by the German umpire, Rudi Berger, on a break point in the opening game of the final set. "If I have a bad match, I have to hold my hands up and say so," Muster said. "That was a bad match for Rudi Berger."

The Austrian acknowledged that Stolle, ranked No 100, had a good match - "it was a tough battle" - and would have expected nothing less, given the history of their meetings in the Gulf.

On the Friday before the 1996 Dubai Open, Muster defeated Marcos Ondruska in a Davis Cup tie in South Africa to record his first senior win on a grass court. Rain delayed the conclusion of the tie, which was completed indoors. On the Monday, Muster was confirmed as the world No 1. He arrived in Dubai at 5 am on the Tuesday, drained of energy, and lost to Stolle that evening.

Muster returned to Dubai last year and won the championship, defeating Jim Courier in the semi-finals and Goran Ivanisevic in the final. The Austrian's impressive form on hard courts continued with a victory at the Lipton Championships in Florida in March. However, he no longer dominated on clay, his best surface, and his success on concrete ended when he was eliminated by Tim Henman in the first round of the United States Open.

Henman is due to play Boris Becker in the opening round tonight. The British No 2 will be aware that the semi-retired former Wimbledon champion gave a rousing performance before losing to Goran Ivanisevic in the second round in Split last week. "He's still better than a lot of guys in the top 10 and is capable of beating anyone," Ivanisevic said.

Steffi Graf's comeback from injury was put on hold again today when she pulled out of the Open Gaz de France WTA Tour event in Paris with a calf muscle problem. The former world No 1, who is recovering from a knee injury which required an operation last summer, had hoped to play her first tournament since reaching the French Open quarter-finals last year.

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