The praise Muster gets in his homeland is slightly less stinting. An Austrian newsweekly named him the nation's 1995 Man of the Year and his memoir, Aufschlag: Mein Leben (Service: My Life), is a bestseller, but even his countrymen have a few reservations about Muster. "Austrians identify with artistry," says sportswriter Michael Sabath of the Klagenfurt daily Kleine Zeitung. "Thomas is not an artist. There's no love in his game, just strength and hard work."
Mus-Terminator is what they call him back in Styria, the province that also produced Arnold Schwarzenegger. Muster's dad, Heinz, was an army administrator; his mom, Inge, ran the pro shop at the Leibnitz country club. "I got my spirit from Mother," Thomas says. "She didn't spoil me, but I always got what I wanted."
What he wanted most was to be a tennis player. Every day from the time Thomas was 12, Inge would pack him off to a tennis club in Graz. "I'd be on buses and trains for 31½ hours," he says. "I'd do homework on the train, come home at eight and do more homework."
Did he ever feel like quitting tennis?
"No," he says. "I felt like quitting school."
He did that by enrolling at Südstadt sports center, an extended boot camp for promising Austrian athletes. Though Muster achieved some success—at 16, he won the Austrian national championships—he felt his game was being stunted by his country's tennis federation with its "tradition of underachievement." In 1984, Polish pro Wojtek Fibak hooked Muster up with Ronnie Leitgeb, a Südstadt-trained figure skater who covered tennis for Austrian radio.
"I want you to coach Thomas," Fibak told Leitgeb, who had written his biography.
"But I've never coached tennis before," Leitgeb protested.
"Come to the Austrian Open in Kitzbühel. Thomas will be there and you'll coach him."
Leitgeb came. Muster came. Fibak said, "You two are from the same country. You're nice boys, so shake hands. Ronnie, from now on you're Thomas's coach and manager." They've been a team pretty much ever since.