At the Net. . .

By Scott Riley
Tennis Editor

MIA: Thomas Muster

Riley Logo Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Will Thomas Muster return to the ATP Tour in the near future, or is the former "King of Clay" unofficially retired? Muster hasn't played professional tennis since bowing out in the first round of the French Open...last year's French Open!

The 32-year-old Austrian, who has avoided tennis courts for almost 15 months, played sparingly in 1999, appearing in 11 tournaments and posting a dismal 5-11 match record en route to a mere $94,981 in prize money.

The tenacious lefthander hasn't entertained tennis fans since losing to Nicolas Lapentti in four sets in the opening round of last year's Parisian Slam.

Following the setback at Roland Garros -- where Muster secured his lone Grand Slam title in 1995 -- he took the rest of the '99 season off to reflect on his career and pilot his helicopter in Noosa Heads, Queensland, Australia -- one of his residences. Noosa is the most northerly resort community of Australia's Sunshine Coast and arguably the most well-known. Muster also hangs his hat in Monte Carlo, Monaco, where many a wealthy citizen enjoys income-tax-free living.

Muster, one of the most physically fit players when on tour, also likes to keep himself busy with photography, playing the drums, collecting abstract art and painting.

The gritty star learned to fly a helicopter because... he was afraid of flying? Apparently Muster felt he had to go on the offensive to overcome that fear.

Muster, who will turn 33 in October, is able to purchase more than helicopters these days, after earning more than $12 million in prize money on the ATP circuit, largely due to 44 singles titles, including 40 on his beloved clay, in 55 career finals. Muster also advanced to three U.S. Open quarterfinals and a pair of Australian Open semis. He became the first Austrian to reach the Aussie Open quarters in 1989, the same year he became the first Austrian to crack the world Top-10.

Things didn't quite work out for the lawn-hating Muster on grass, however, as he participated in four Wimbledons, losing in the first round each time.

The blue-collar lefty was the Tour's 1990 Comeback Player of the Year, the 1995 recipient of the Ironman Award, and achieved world No. 1 status at the age of 28 in February of 1996. In the process, Muster became the second-oldest player to reach No. 1 for the first time and the first lefthander to hold the position since John McEnroe turned the trick in September of 1985. Muster would reign No. 1 for one week, and then again for five weeks, this despite playing on the same tour with all-time greats Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

But, in case you're interested, Muster is only a combined 6-14 against Pete (2-9) and Andre (4-5).

Muster's 1990 comeback plaudits were the result of his return from an accident in 1989.

In March of '89, the Austrian star was struck by a drunk driver in Miami, only hours after defeating Yannick Noah to reach the final at the lucrative Key Biscayne tournament. Muster suffered severed ligaments in his left knee, and was unable to meet Ivan Lendl in the title match.

The hard-nosed southpaw flew to Vienna for surgery, and, surprisingly, was able to return to tennis in less than six months.

While rehabbing the knee, Muster continued to work on his game by having a special chair designed that would allow him to practice hitting tennis balls. He was once quoted as saying, "I live for tennis." I guess so.

The 5-11, 165-pounder, who turned pro in 1985, was at the top of his game in 1995, the year Muster stockpiled a remarkable 12 championships in 14 finals, including the French Open crown. That same year, he rattled off 40 straight clay-court wins, the longest such streak since the legendary Bjorn Borg won 44 in a row on dirt from 1977-79.

Muster also finished in the year-end Top-10 on five occasions, including a career-best No. 3 showing at the conclusion of his brilliant '95 campaign.

By the end of the 1999 season, however, he would plummet to No. 188.

The CA Tennis Trophy tournament is fast approaching (October 9) in Muster's native Austria.

Tommy...Vienna waits for you.

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