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Former French Open champion Thomas Muster is taking time out from the second event on the 2006 Merrill Lynch Tour of Champions, the Chevalier Champions in Hong Kong, to answer your questions.
Thomas was known as the iron man of tennis in the 1990s, winning the French Open in 1995 and reaching the world number one ranking.
These days he runs a successful clothing company, captains the Austrian Davis Cup team, and competes against other great players on the Tour of Champions, which culminates in the Champions Masters at London's Royal Albert Hall (5th to 10th December 2006).
In Hong Kong, Muster will renew a heated rivalry with 1987 Wimbledon Champion Pat Cash after the pair almost came to blows at a tournament in Germany last year.
Thanks for all your questions - A selection of the best appear below.
How do you feel the freak accident at Key Biscayne, Florida, in 1989 when you got hit by a car affected your approach to the game and how you played?
Jason Cowell, Ireland
I don't really think about it any more. People remind me about it occasionally, but I think that because of the way the rest of my career went - being number one in the world, winning the French Open, and heaps of other tournaments - I'm known for my comeback and it's something that people look at as remarkable about my career.
If I'd had to stop playing and could never hit a ball again after 1989 it would have been different. I'd probably have been pretty miserable, but as it happened, the comeback became a trademark for the rest of my life.
Why is it that almost all great clay-court players struggle on grass and yet Bjorn Borg was just as successful on both surfaces at Grand Slam level?
Patrick Carr, England
Because they require different techniques. You either know how to play on grass, or you don't. Grass is an exception to all other surfaces. There is no way that you can really learn to master playing tennis on grass, it's all about your natural technique. Clay-court players grow up with such extreme grip changes so I think it depends on whether they are capable of adjusting to grass.
When Bjorn was playing, most of the racquets were wooden and so the balls couldn't travel as fast. Bjorn's double-handed backhand helped him a lot but the game was way slower and he was the fittest, fastest guy around at that time so he was able to return the balls.
Did you significantly change anything prior to your successful 1995 season?
No, I didn't. I'd been a favourite for the French Open for many years but I couldn't deliver. Sometimes I had a draw that went against me, sometimes I just wasn't playing that well. I had a really good chance the year that Andres Gomez won it in 1990, and knowing that my career had never gone to the final stages meant that the pressure was greater. I was happy that I pulled that one off in 1995.
After winning Roland Garros in 1995 you were never able to repeat as a Grand Slam champion even though you were still the world's premier clay court player. Why do think that is? Did your ambition wane a bit after finally winning a major?
Randy Rousseau, USA
I changed my racquet in 1997 to a slightly longer one with a different stringing pattern. It helped me to serve better, volley better and to hit more 'flat'. That is shown in my record on hard courts that year because they were the best of my career, but I couldn't play as well with that racquet on clay. It didn't spin the ball as well. I played really well at Key Biscayne, but then when I went to Davis Cup, Goran Ivanisevic beat me on clay and that was really unexpected because I was in really good shape.
I couldn't spin the ball the way I used to and I didn't have a good clay court season. I tried all sorts of other racquets and string patterns, even using my old racquet for clay and my new racquet for hard courts, but nothing worked. I couldn't make the transition between the two quick enough.
Once you lose confidence and you are testing racquets in the middle of the season it's like a Formula One driver trying to work out troubles with the engine. It was frustrating and I started hating it. If you're practicing more than before and your results are getting worse and you can't work out why, you get sick of it. That's why I retired.
Clay-courters are supposed to be either Spanish or South American - how is it that you came to dominate clay courts at the expense of hard and indoors and who was your toughest opponent?
Saleh Eissa, UK
Everyone in Europe is brought up on clay ¿ Spanish, German, Croatian players. Probably everyone except the UK, because you have all your turf and hard courts but not much clay, which is probably why you haven't really had a great clay-courter. You have to be more complete to be a clay courter ¿ if I'd had a better serve I would have probably saved myself running about 350,000 miles! But I didn't, so I concentrated on clay.
Do you ever regret not playing at Wimbledon more?
Andy Stevenson, UK
No, not at all. You have to understand that I used to play about 40 tournaments a year and you have to have an off-season at some point. My preparation time would start in October or November to get ready for Australia and to play well in the spring and I needed to have some time off to recharge my batteries. I would play a full schedule of clay-court tournaments until after Paris, and for me to go to Wimbledon took too much effort from me for what I could get out of it.
To concentrate on Wimbledon and only get to the fourth round would not be worth it because it would cost me the whole American season and the US Open. It wasn't that I didn't like grass - I played the Stella Artois tournament once at Queen's and got to the semi-finals. But the grass-court time was when I recharged. It's probably hard for some people to understand but, for me, Wimbledon was never as important as the French Open.
Do you think that in order to break into the top 100 in the world you need exceptional talent, or can it be done through pure hard work?
Paul, United Kingdom
If you are reasonably talented and you work really hard, maybe you can have a chance at the top 100, but if you're talking about top 50 or top 20, it's not enough. If you're not unbelievably talented there's no way you can achieve that. You've got to be unbelievably consistent - you've got to deliver over an amount of time.
Who out of Steffi Graf & Martina Navratilova do you think is the greatest?
Ben Chick, Wales
Steffi Graf did the real Grand Slam in one year and she won the Olympics that year as well. Is she the greatest woman player of all time? I don't know. Probably, but it is hard to compare generations. Martina Navratilova was a great player too.
I have been watching you play at the Merrill Lynch Tour of Champions event here in Hong Kong and was surprised to see how competitive it still is. Do you really want to beat each other still?
Sara, Hong Kong
We are still competitive - it's the way we are. Also we have proper rankings now, a proper Masters event at the Royal Albert Hall in December which we have to qualify for, and there is real prize money at stake there. No-one wants to lose. We have fun and it's more relaxed than it used to be - we can have a beer after the matches with each other and we get on, but we can still play well and we want to win. You never lose that.
Do you think Andy Murray has the game to maybe win the French Open someday?
Andy Murray? Who is he? (laughs). I've only seen a few matches of his - he's playing reasonably well but time will tell how his skills improve. There is certainly a lot to improve in his game but he is a young guy, he has good determination, but Britain is a bit like Austria and Germany - you tend to push people to the skies when they have not really done anything, and then when they are down you step and spit on them! I would advise you to keep a neutral position.
He can do very well on hard courts and grass and he grew up on clay, but I think he has developed a game which is better suited to hard courts. If I was his coach I would move him in the grass, hard court and indoor direction - he has a really good serve but a lot of players have that. There's a big difference between having a good game and being consistent, so I would not predict him to win the French Open at the moment!
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Published: 2006/04/08 08:47:58 GMT
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