Tennis: Muster wins the desert dust-up

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The Independent Online
If Boris Becker's wrist injury eased Goran Ivanisevic's progress to the final of the $1m Dubai Open, the defending champion will be surprised that Thomas Muster's left arm is still attached to his body when they duel tonight.

Muster's semi-final victory against Jim Courier, 7-6 2-6 6-3, was a celebration of powerful shot-making and tenacity, with room for finesse amid the muscularity. Errors were made as well, but there was so much cordite that it would be daft to describe them as unforced. Seven of the 11 breaks of serve were in a row, and six were in the opening set. Courier saved a set point in the 10th game before the Austrian clinched the tie-break, 7-3, after 57 minutes.

Courier showed tremendous determination in the second set here and had two opportunities to break his opponent at the start of the final set before Muster snatched a 3-0 lead. The American managed to save two match points at 2-5 before Muster served out for a place in the final and the guarantee of rising to No 2 behind Pete Sampras in the world rankings.

Ivanisevic, the beneficiary of Becker's retirement before their quarter- final on Friday, continued an erratic course towards the defence of the title in defeating Jiri Novak, of the Czech Republic, 6-1 3-6 6-3.

What appeared a comfortable task for Ivanisevic, when he used the power of his service game to capitalise on Novak's nerves in the opening set, became problematic for the Croat when his errors encouraged his opponent.

Novak, ranked No 67, gained confidence by saving four break points in the third game of the second set and was further encouraged by Ivanisevic's double faults. One of the nine points Ivanisevic donated put the champion 3-5 down. Novak served out the set for the loss of only two more points.

Ivanisevic had to save a break point in the opening game of the third set before taking a 3-0 lead, at which stage it appeared that the pattern of the opening set was likely to be repeated.

The difference was that by now Novak was able to play his groundstrokes and passing shots with the assuredness which had unsettled another mighty server, Richard Krajicek, the Wimbledon champion, in the quarter-finals.

Novak created two break points in the fifth game, converting the second by luring Ivanisevic into netting a backhand after a brisk rally. Ivanisevic was in trouble again at 3-3 after hitting a backhand wide across the court to give Novak two opportunities to break for 4-3. A netted backhand cost the Czech the first chance, and a trademark Ivanisevic ace took care of the second. It was one of only seven, and unquestionably the most important.

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