Old news now, but he's back (on the senior tour at least, for now)...
They called him the "Tom-inator" and the "Moo Man". But, he was more an ox, a beast of burden. Few players seemed to be working harder when playing than Thomas Muster.
The 1995 Roland Garros champion and former No. 1 attacked points like he was an infidel storming the palace. Driven and determined, Muster stormed the great cities of Europe as the best clay court player of the mid-90s, repeatedly conquered the red dirt of the continents capitals. Between 1988 and 1994, the Austrian was the king of many cities, including Monte Carlo, Rome, Madrid, Prague, Geneva and Florence (three times). In 1995 he went on an exquisite run rarely seen in men’s tennis: a 35-match winning streak on clay that included titles in Estoril, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome, the French Open and St. Poelten.
Beside a bellowed grunt and his topspin-heavy, left-handed groundstrokes, Muster was remembered for a drive and work ethic second to none. In 1989, he had won a breakthrough to the semis of Key Biscayne and was set to face the game's dominant player, Ivan Lendl. But, on that Saturday night, an unattended car rolled only a few feet, but crushed his leg. During his long recovery, Muster had a special chair designed so he could practice hitting balls before he was allowed to walk. The next year he was named ATP Comeback Player of the Year.
His retirement in 1999 coincided with a divorce from his wife, a former Australian TV personality. He undertook a total change of scenery by moving to Australia, and began to engage in more artistic pursuits like painting, photography and playing the drums.
Muster has now back in Austria, has refocused his massive energy on tennis and has signed up to play in senior tournaments in Europe. He sat down with tennisreporters.net before competing at a senior exhibition in Atlanta.
tennisreporters.net: How long has it been since you’ve played?
Thomas Muster: I haven’t touched a racket in, pretty much, three-and-a-half years I’ve been practicing for the last six months. This is a new experience for me. Six months is a pretty long time.
tr.net: Why did you put down a racket for that long?
Muster: I was’nt interested in playing anymore. I gained some weight. I felt like I had to do something. I started running again. You hit the ball if you can and I started to enjoy playing again.
tr.net: You let your weight get up to 217 and are now down to 167 pounds. How did you lose the weight?
Muster: Running about 10 miles a day. Gym work. Played tennis about five times a week.
tr.net: You were known as one of the fittest players on the tour. Is that one of the reasons you didn’t pick up a racket for a while, that you had worked so hard in your playing days?
Muster: It was probably a bit of burn. My career wasn’t an easy one. It had some ups and downs. I guess I got tired of doing what I was doing. Now I’m enjoying it again.
tr.net: You made news when you had that wheelchair built after that auto accident. It showed your determination to come back. Was your work in the last six months anything like that?
Muster: It felt a bit similar. It takes a bit of willpower to do it. In the back of your mind it’s "you don’t have to do it." So, your life doesn’t depend on playing tennis. So it comes down to pure enjoyment. You’re not doing it for money; you’re not doing it basically to survive. You’re doing it because you love doing it.
tr.net: What’s your schedule look like this year?
Muster: I’m playing a tournament in Austria in two weeks. And then I haven’t really decided. I don’t know if I’m going to stay on the senior tour [ATP Delta Tour of Champions] and play a few more events this year. I gave myself some time to hit the ball and make a decision on what I’m going to do.
tr.net: From an American point of view, it’s great to have an event here [in Atlanta]. We’ve been out of the senior business except for an event here and an event there. Do you think there’s any future in America for senior tournaments?
Muster: Oh, sure there is. You’ve got good examples of players in really high age performing well. You’ve got John McEnroe pretty playing solid tennis still. Jimmy Connors used to be a pretty good example. I think it has great potential. There’s always room to improve. I think the senior tour has got to be acknowledged. You’ve got Jim Courier playing now. Michael Stich. Boris Becker. That’s a generation that can play really good tennis. It’s always going to be you have stars and young players who are going to be an age where they want to play, but they don’t want to play a full schedule. If we get players who are 33, 34, they can play five, six years, you’ll have some really good tennis there.
tr.net: Are you guys are going to be more realistic with your fees and than other players have?
Muster: It’s not about money. Most of the guys playing don’t need the money to survive and to live. They want the challenge; they want to play in front of a crowd. That’s basically what they want. I don’t think it’s an issue. I mean the market is there but everyone is going to make a little bit. That’s fine. But, mainly, we want to play.
tr.net: We have a new Roland Garros champion, Juan Carlos Ferrero. Do you think he’s going to continue at that level?
Muster: Tennis is played at such a high level. Look at Lleyton Hewitt. It’s almost like you’ve got a two- or three-year rotations on No. 1s, because you’re playing on such a high level, year-in and year-out. You’ve got to get the breaks. The burnout factor is fairly high. You’re going to have people dominate for a while and then it’s going to change again. It’s just more competition. It’s very competitive. These guys are really good. The human body is still a human body. They’re not machines. You’re going year-in and year-out. It’s not only the tennis: You’re got to practice; you’ve got to prepare; you’ve got to rest. Media. Sponsors. You’ve got 10-, 12-hour days. It’s not sitting in an office.
tr.net: If you look at the three former No. 1 players who are here [Muster, Mats Wilander, Jim Courier] all had relatively short runs at No. 1.
Muster: It’s over; you can’t dominate the game for five to 10 years. Today it’s too competitive. Look at the women’s game. The first three or four rounds it’s easy. Then it starts: the quarterfinals. That used to be men’s tennis probably 10 or 15 years ago. Not now. You play five sets from the first round on. It’s tough.
tr.net: How about Roger Federer? Do you think he’ll have success on clay?
Muster: If someone is playing well on hard courts and on grass, then they say, "Can he play well on clay?" If they play well on clay, they say, "Can he play well on hard courts." He’s got great potential. He’s young. He’s going to have all the opportunities from a technical point of view. He could be a great player on all surfaces.
tr.net: Have you been surprised that Pete Sampras hasn’t elected to make a decision on his future?
Muster: No. He has a great career. Maybe he wants to have a year off and decide what he wants to do, instead of announcing a retirement and then starting to come back. He has all the time in the world to make a decision.
Theres a pic here: