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Back In the Swing
S.L. Price
June 19, 1995
Wins in Paris by Steffi Graf and Thomas Muster made any comeback seem possible
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June 19, 1995

Back In The Swing

Wins in Paris by Steffi Graf and Thomas Muster made any comeback seem possible

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It's more than that for Graf. After Günter Parche stabbed Seles, he said he did it because he wanted Graf to be No. 1, and with that he also made a victim out of the object of his twisted devotion. Graf enjoyed this French Open more than any Grand Slam in recent memory in part because she has felt the burden of Seles's exile. It has been more than two years, and Graf has never put the attack behind her.

"I don't think any human can do that who has any heart," she says. "All these tournaments...it was really hard for me because I didn't know what was happening. I got questions constantly, and I felt...he said he was my fan, so it's impossible not to feel guilty. If something like that happens, you cannot put it behind you."

But she's trying. Led by Navratilova, the president of the players' association, the Women's Tennis Association has been working to soften its hard-line refusal to freeze Seles's No. 1 ranking after the stabbing. One plan for easing Seles's return has her coming back and sharing the No. 3 spot, but Graf, for one, insists Seles's request for a co-No. 1 ranking be granted. "When she left, she was Number 1, and it's going to be hard enough for her to come back any way," Graf says. "We should do anything possible for her."

Graf's attitude is only the most public expression of a developing rapprochement between the Seles camp and the tennis establishment. Navratilova, who has made it her personal mission to bring Seles back into the fold, has spoken with her numerous times, and the two hit at in Sarasota, where Seles lives, when Navratilova was in Florida for Federation Cup play in April. Now Seles has scheduled the exhibition, calling it "a first step forward for me." She flew to Paris for three days of meetings about her ranking with WTA officials and, before departing from Miami, blanched when she saw Evert heading for the same gate as she at the airport.

"I did a double take," says Evert, now a broadcaster for NBC. "She was with an IMG agent, and as soon as they saw me, the agent covered her up. I went up and said, 'Monica, I can't pretend I don't see you. I just want to say hi.' " Seles went to the back of the plane and tried to stay out of sight. As they were picking up their baggage, Evert said to her, "I hope to see you back soon."

Muster, like Seles, knows what it's like to try to come back. In 1989 Muster, then 21 and a Top 10 clay-court wizard, was poised for the breakout of his career. But on the April night that he propelled himself into the final of the Lipton Championships with a five-set win over Yannick Noah, Muster found his career decked by a drunk driver. As Muster was unloading gear from the trunk of a car, the driver slammed into its front end; the bumper severed both the medial collateral and the anterior cruciate ligament in Muster's left knee. It wasn't clear if he would ever walk easily—much less play—again.

But Muster attacked rehabilitation with the same ferocity that marks his tennis. Quickly he and his manager-coach, Ronald Leitgeb, designed a chair that enabled Muster to sit on court and bat balls while still in a cast. And that changed everything. "The most remarkable day I ever had with Thomas was the day I first brought him this chair, when I put him in it on the court, and he could hit the balls," Leitgeb says. "Two weeks before, when he came out of the hospital, he'd said, 'Ah, I'm not going to run again in my life. I've had enough of physical and athletic training. That's it.' He had such sad eyes. But then he was hitting in that chair, and I could sec the fire in his eyes. From that moment I believed he was going to do it."

Less than six months later Muster was back on the circuit; by May 1990, he had returned to the Top 10; from there he crafted a reputation as a bit of a bully and the last man anyone wanted to face in a big match. He still can't bend his left leg completely, yet Muster has risen to a career-high No. 3 ranking solely through his dominance on clay. Of his 29 tournament wins, 28 have come on that surface. His fitness and heart go unquestioned.

On Saturday night, before the final, Muster told Leitgeb he would not lose to Chang. And indeed, after falling behind 1-4, 0-40 in the first set, he held off four break points and blitzed the usually unflappable Chang with an array of sharp forehands, constant pressure—and inexhaustible energy. It has been the hallmark of his 35-match winning streak that nothing has disturbed his concentration. Not the prospect of winning his first Slam. Not even Boris Becker's veiled accusations last month, after Muster came back from two sets down to win the Monte Carlo final, that Muster's vitality was drug-enhanced. "He did not apologize for that," Muster says. "But I didn't win for Boris Becker. I won for myself."

Muster has no thought of being a star or a role model; at one point during Sunday's final he rudely mocked Chang as Chang questioned a call. Muster is 27, "this young-old man," as the old Romanian tennis warrior, Ion Tiriac, calls him, and not likable, and he doesn't even bother to care.

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