25-year rewind: Muster reigns as King of Clay

 - Simon Cambers

Of 12 titles on the terre battue in 1995, Roland-Garros stands tall as the Austrian's greatest triumph

In 1995, Thomas Muster was the King of Clay, conquering all before him with a winning streak that went all the way to Roland-Garros, where he won his first and only Grand Slam title.

In conversation with rolandgarros.com, the Austrian tells us how he fulfilled his dream.

Round 1: d. Gerard Solves (FRA) 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-1

Muster had won everything on clay in the build-up to Roland-Garros, including the big titles in Monte Carlo and Rome. Suddenly he found himself a set down to a French qualifier ranked No.191, a man who had never won a match at Grand Slam level.

“Yeah, but with a Slam that can happen,” Muster said in an interview earlier this year. “The entry can always be difficult, you can be (against) a qualifier, you’re not settled in. That’s the good thing about best of five, you settle in, start playing better, get through the first rounds and start playing better. That’s what most of the players do, you don’t want to peak at the beginning of the tournament, it should be the other way round.”

Round 2: d. Cedric Pioline (FRA) 6-1, 6-3, 6-3

Muster had played Pioline twice before, each time on clay, including in the second round at Roland-Garros two years before. Each of those matches had been tight so Muster was on guard from the start and with the nerves of round one out of his system, he romped to a convincing victory, despite the best efforts of the crowd, who wanted their man to win and were not shy in letting Muster know.

Round 3: d. Carlos Costa (ESP) 6-3, 7-5, 6-2

Carlos Costa may be better known these days as Rafael Nadal’s agent but in 1995, he was a fine clay-court player, a man good enough to have reached the final of the Italian Open three years before. He had also taken Muster to a deciding set in their most recent clay-court meeting, in Barcelona the previous month, but on this day in Paris, he was no match for the Austrian, who romped to one of his most convincing victories in their eight career meetings.

Round 4: d. Andrei Medvedev (UKR) 6-3, 6-3, 6-0

Four years later, Medvedev would go all the way to the Roland-Garros final and lead Andre Agassi two sets to love before going down in five sets. As he prepared to face Muster, the Ukrainian was ranked No.18 and at home on clay, but Muster, crunching that famous forehand with characteristic venom, pummelled him into the ground, wasting no energy as he cruised into the second week.

Quarter-finals: d. Albert Costa (ESP) 6-2, 3-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2

Muster had beaten the 19-year-old Costa easily to win the Estoril title at the start of his stunning 1995 clay-court run and most people expected this to be straightforward too. But Costa, who was already being tipped for big things in Spain, had other ideas, lavishing his one-handed backhand to great effect and getting himself to within two games of victory in the fourth set. But once Muster had snatched the fourth, he rode his momentum. “I think that was the key, that was the key match to succeed (at Roland-Garros), he said. “I was two sets to one down, it was pretty tough one, remembering it now. Albert was rough.”

Semi-finals: d. Yevgeny Kafelnikov (RUS) 6-4, 6-0, 6-4

Waiting for Muster in the semi-finals was Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Russian who would become Roland-Garros champion a year later and a man already entrenched in the world’s top 10. But the match-up seemed to suit Muster, who had already beaten Kafelnikov comfortably in Barcelona the previous month, and despite the carrot of reaching his first Grand Slam final, he had no trouble as he marched through. “Playing Yevgeny was OK because I liked playing him,” he said, succinctly.

Final: d. Michael Chang (USA) 7-5, 6-2, 6-4

Being in his first Grand Slam final left Muster anxious and he was not exactly rested as Sunday dawned and he considered the prospect of playing Michael Chang, the champion of 1989 and a man who knew what it took to win under pressure. “I didn’t sleep much the two nights before,” he said. “I was pretty tense, nervous, tried to get out on the court and do it. It’s like a racehorse that’s kept in the stables. I was 28, you never know if you’ll ever get that opportunity again, maybe it’s going to be a one-off.”

Muster had beaten Chang easily on his way to the title in Rome but once he’d taken the first set, there was no stopping Muster, who closed out victory to become the first Austrian to win a Grand Slam title and finally get the monkey off his back. "It was the only big one missing,” he told reporters at the time. “I'm feeling pretty good to be relieved of that pressure.”