Statesmanship of Muster craftsman

You could hardly call Thomas Muster a regular on the London scene. In a tennis career spanning 15 years the Austrian left-hander opted to play Wimbledon only four times, and never once walked off the lawns of SW19 a winner. So Thomas has been enjoying his involvement with the Masters tournament at the Albert Hall, marching through to this afternoon's final, enjoying incognito runs in Hyde Park and indulging in a spot of sightseeing.

You could hardly call Thomas Muster a regular on the London scene. In a tennis career spanning 15 years the Austrian left-hander opted to play Wimbledon only four times, and never once walked off the lawns of SW19 a winner. So Thomas has been enjoying his involvement with the Masters tournament at the Albert Hall, marching through to this afternoon's final, enjoying incognito runs in Hyde Park and indulging in a spot of sightseeing.

Muster has, though, caused a stir or two in the old town. In 1996, the year when he rose to world No 1, he turned up at the Stella Artois tournament at Queen's Club, and it needed all Stefan Edberg's grass-court skills to keep him from a place in the final.

However, he made bigger headlines, and on the front pages, too, over his friendship with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. As he puts it: "I achieved something that the guys who actually won Wimbledon never managed. I featured in stories on the front pages of British newspapers without ever appearing on the back."

Now, after tiptoeing away from tennis in 1999, abandoning Monte Carlo for Queensland and immersing himself so thoroughly in the Aussie lifestyle that he piled on nearly four stones in extra weight, Muster is back in Austria, a failed marriage behind him, captaining his country's Davis Cup team, heading an ambitious development programme for juniors and making a big impact on the senior circuit, the Delta Tour of Champions. Muster had intended to take up a two-year contract as Davis Cup captain in time for the 2005 competition, but when the incumbent, Gunther Bresnik, resigned in the wake of a 5-0 defeat by the United States in February, the man who won 36 of his 44 Cup singles agreed to step in early, and led the squad to victory in the World Group play-off against Britain in Portschach at the end of September. With his 37th birthday coming up a week later, the Iron Man resisted all sentimental calls to form part of the Austrian doubles team.

The Iron Man description prompted a small smile as Muster relaxed in the players' lounge at the Albert Hall. Opponents, he said, were always so preoccupied with his super-fit reputation that they underestimated his racket skills.

"Everyone kept saying I was so fit, but you don't win the French Open and get to No 1 if all you have is fitness. I used that to my advantage. A lot of people said, 'How can I lose to this guy? He can only run'. But I have won tournaments indoors, played all right on grass at Queen's and done pretty well on hard courts."

That said, all but four of his 44 tournament wins came on clay, where he was for a time simply invulnerable. The highlight, his lone Grand Slam victory in the 1995 French Open, climaxed a run of 40 successive wins on clay.

As someone who set up residence in Monte Carlo at the age of 18 in order to get regular practice there against the then superior talents of Bjorn Borg, Boris Becker and Mats Wilander, Muster found his finely honed condition an ally following a horrendous accident on the first day of April 1989.

Having just reached the final of the Miami tournament, Thomas was unloading his tennis bag from a courtesy-car boot when the vehicle was slammed into by a drunk driver. Doctors told him the severed knee ligaments he suffered would keep him out for a year, but he was back five-and-a-half months later. "It's incredible what the mind and body can do," he said. "But I don't think I could do it today."

Muster's single-mindedness was also evident in his decision, at the start of 1999, to retire at the French Open. "But I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want ceremonies everywhere I played. I didn't want to be asked at every tournament why I was quitting and what I was going to do. So I just walked away after losing to [Nicolas] Lapentti in the first round at Roland Garros.

"When I started my career there was no one there and when I stopped no one was there, either. It was my favourite tournament and I knew it was my last match. Those are big moments, and I didn't feel like sharing them with anyone else."

Three months later, having decided he did not fancy a return, Muster threw away all his tennis gear. "I had no further interest." He headed for the good life in the Queensland resort of Noosa Heads, where he had bought property six years earlier. He got married, fathered a son, showed off his pilot's licence in two helicopters he had acquired, drank beer, sat around and watched his weight soar from 11st 10lb to 14st 7 lb. "I didn't really care," he said. "I didn't want to exercise, because that was what I had done all my life. When I decided to get fit again it took me six months to get all that extra weight off."

Now, with his decision to boost the quality of the seniors' circuit, the fitness lifestyle has been reclaimed. Having collected in excess of $12m (£6.2m) in prize money alone, Muster can afford his gesture of working for nothing as Davis Cup captain and also donating his time to develop the Austrian junior programme at a new centre in Graz, where he now lives. The helicopters, however, have been sold. Flying around is confined to the tennis court again these days.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor