Vienna, 24 October 2010 | AFP
Retired former Austrian ironman Thomas Muster will attempt to defy his 43 years when he plays as a long-odds wildcard at next week’s ATP Austria Tennis Trophy.
The 1995 Roland Garros winner and one-time king of clay prior to the era of Rafael Nadal has been labouring through a comeback experiment for the past few months on the lower-level Challenger circuit, where his success has been limited to just one match win and six losses.
But such is the drawing power of the country’s greatest-ever player that tournament officials thought it well worth giving him a chance.
In his prime, Muster reached the final at the Stadthalle three times, losing title bids in 1988, 1993 and 1995. He also played in four losing semi-finals.
The veteran got a refresher course at the indoor stadium this week as he had a hit for half an hour. But he has been handed the toughest of opening test, with a first-round date against Latvian fifth seed Ernests Gulbis, 21 years his junior.
Heading the field will be Austria’s shining representative of the current generation, Jurgen Melzer, the defending champion. Also back is Croatian Marin Cilic, last year’s losing finalist who takes the second seeding.
Nicolas Almagro of Spain is third followed by personable Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis.
The 29-year-old Melzer has revitalised his career this season, reaching his first-ever grand slam semi-final with a loss in Paris to Nadal. He and German Philipp Petzschner also won the Wimbledon doubles title a month later.
The Austrian has an outside chance at booking one of the four remaining spots for November’s eight-man World Tour Finals in London should he produced an outstanding end-of-season run.
He currently stands provisional 11 with Cilic even further back on 13th with three more weeks of regular season ATP events remaining.
American James Blake, who won two rounds this week in Stockholm, returns for the first time since 2003 after a 2002 quarter-final in his debut appearance.
The 30-year-old wildcard begins with Pole Lukasz Kubot with the winner to face Melzer in a showcase second-round match.