Action Replay: April 1 1989


Originally published on: 26/02/10 14:11

Austria’s finest tennis player, Thomas Muster, was approaching his prime when a bizarre car accident during the Lipton International Players Championships in Florida threatened to end his career.

The left-handed clay court specialist, renowned for his mental strength on court, had just beaten Frenchman Yannick Noah in five sets to book a place in the final against world No.1 Ivan Lendl.

After his five-set thriller against Noah, Muster and three of his entourage stopped for food in downtown Miami, parking their car on a one-way street.

As Muster, then 21 years old and ranked No.14 in the world, rumaged in the boot, a drunk driver careered into the front of the Austrian’s vehicle sending the star flying backwards some 15 feet.

The Iron Man had severly damaged both major tendons in his left knee and underwent immediate surgery, overseen by the leading doctor to the Miami Dolphins, the comically named Dr Virgin.

Amid rumours that he might never play again, Muster then flew back to Europe to receive further treatment and begin his rehabilitation.

Years later, Muster admitted that rather than having a negative impact, the accident and injury defined his career. “I think that because of the way the rest of my career went – being No.1 in the world, winning the French Open, and heaps of other tournaments – I’m known for my comeback and it’s something that people look at as remarkable about my career,” he said in 2006.

“If I’d had to stop playing and could never hit a ball again after 1989 it would have been different. I’d probably have been pretty miserable, but as it happened, the comeback became a trademark for the rest of my life.”

What happened next…

  • Lendl was awarded a walk-over in the Liptons final, becoming the event’s first two-time champion. He played Swiss Jakob Hlasek in an exhibition match on the Sunday to replace the final.
  • The women’s title went to Argentine Gabriela Sabatini, who beat Chris Evert 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 in the ladies final.
  • Muster proved his cirtics wrong when he returned to the sport just six months after the accident. His recovery was speeded up by using a specially designed chair in the centre of the court that enabled him to practice groundstrokes while sitting down – before the knee had fully healed.
  • In 1990 he won four tournaments, was runner-up in another three, reached the semi-finals of the French Open and led Austria to the semi-finals of the Davis Cup. The Austrian was named the ATP Tour’s ‘Comeback Player of the Year’.
  • In 1995 Muster had his best year on court, and was widely acknowledged as one of the most dominant players on tour. He won 12 titles from 14 final appearances, among them the French Open (to be his only Grand Slam victory) where he beat American Michael Chang in the final. His clay court win-loss stat for 1995 was 65-2.
  • On February 12 1996, Muster became the world No.1, but only held the ranking for one week. He returned to the summit of men’s tennis during March and April the same year, however.
  • Muster reached his last singles final in 1998. He retired from the tour in 1999.
  • Muster now lives in Austria, where he is still involved in tennis. He plays on the Senior Tour, is a former Austria Davis Cup captain and has business interests in sports clothing, bottled water and wine.

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Tim Farthing, Tennishead Editorial Director & Owner, has been a huge tennis fan his whole life. He's a tennis journalist and entrepreneur as well as playing tennis to a national standard. He also helps manage his local club and volunteers for his local tennis organisation. He's a specialist in content about the administration of professional tennis and tennis coaching for all levels.