Muster the iron man prepares Austria's clay trap for Britain

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The Independent Online

The redoubtable Thomas Muster, who once, in jest, chased Tim Henman off Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open, is wearing his intimidating game face.

The redoubtable Thomas Muster, who once, in jest, chased Tim Henman off Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Open, is wearing his intimidating game face.

Approaching 37, Muster is ready to make his debut tomorrow as Austria's Davis Cup captain for the World Group play-off against Britain in this picturesque resort here. Muster is remembered as an iron man of the ATP Tour, the player whose left knee was almost severed by a drunken driver in Miami in 1989, but who was hitting balls with the aid of a leg support contraption only a week after undergoing surgery.

The former world No 1, who won the French Open in 1995, now competes against such as John McEnroe and Boris Becker on the Delta Tour of Champions, and was the first to qualify for the The Masters Tennis, to be held at the Royal Albert Hall from 30 November to 5 December.

As a Davis Cup player, Muster helped elevate his country to the World Group for the first time with a 5-0 whitewash against Britain in Zell am See in 1988. During that tie, Warren Jacques, Britain's captain, asked a mild-mannered Austrian journalist if he wanted to step outside after the reporter had brandished newspaper clippings containing remarks Jacques had made concerning Muster's level of sportsmanship.

Three years later, Muster lost in four sets to Mark Petchey as Britain defeated Austria on grass in Didsbury, Manchester.

"It will be a different feeling, sitting outside watching the players," Muster said. "You can't really act. You have to sit there you can't jump and run to get your stress out. You are just sitting there watching the players, giving them some strategy for the game. The bottom line is that there's a lot you can try to do, but in the end, really nothing."

Muster thought hard before accepting the job. "I wasn't really sure if I wanted to do it, because Gunther Bresnik had been the captain before me and had done a really good job for the team," he said. "But, his contract finished and I was asked. I had a few months to think about it and I said yes, but only if it was connected with the junior programme in Austria. I didn't want to just be captain, I want to be involved with the junior programme in the country, because tennis has not been so popular in Austria for a while."

Austria's singles players, Jurgen Melzer, Stefan Koubek and Alexander Peya, all reached the third round at the US Open. Julian Knowle, a doubles specialist, reached the Wimbledon final this year, partnering Nenad Zimonjic, of Serbia. Knowle may team up with Melzer against Britain.

Koubek, a left-hander, was burdened with being called "The Next Thomas Muster" at the start of his career. "It was quite a lot of pressure," Koubek said. "I want to be myself and be remembered as Stefan Koubek. Everyone in Austria looks up to Thomas. It's not easy to follow him, but I'm trying and I hope people are going to remember me, too."

He added: "I get along well with Thomas. We talk and I can ask him anything. In the last few months I have talked to him quite a lot because he was in Paris watching all of the matches of the Austrian and British players. I looked up to him when I was a kid - he was the best tennis player in Austria and, for a while, in the world."

Melzer said it was "a bit early to tell" what effect Muster would have on the team. "But I've heard," he added "that the 3,500 seats are sold out. Thomas brings more people to tennis. He is very professional, and he's trying to make this week as professional as possible."

Having beaten both Henman and Rusedski this year - Henman on rubberised concrete, Rusedski on clay - Melzer is confident. "There is nothing which worries me about these two players," he said.

Koubek agreed. "Henman may have reached the semi-finals of Roland Garros, but we are not going to put that kind of clay on the court," he said. "It's going to be a little bit slower, a little bit deeper, and a lot tougher to play on for the British players. I am very much looking forward to it because the British players do not play their best tennis on clay. It's not going to be easy for us, but we are going to fight to stay in the World Group."

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