Hat-trick of Italian Open wins for Munster

 

THOMAS MUSTER beat unseeded Dutchman Richard Kracijek in four sets in Rome yesterday to retain his Italian Open title and become the first man to win the event three times.

The Austrian top seed, who bed gins the defence of his French Open title at the end of the month, overcame his hard-serving opponent 6-2 6-4 3-6 6-3 in just over two hours on an overcast and blustery day at the clay-court Foro ltalico.

Only two other men have won the title three times in the past - Czech-born Jaroslav Drobny in the early 1950s and Australian Martin Mulligan in 1963, 1965 and 1967.

Muster, a consummate clay-court player whose record of 94 wins and three defeats since the start of 1995 speaks for itself, declared on Saturday: "People say Muster can't do this and can't do that but Muster can do a lot if he wants to".

He proved his point, denying his opponent the slightest sniff of a break until the second set.

The world number two was rarely in any trouble on a centre court whose surface proved treacherous during the first set on fresh clay apparently laid overnight.

The Austrian's victory meant the men's and women's titles went to the same players as in 1995. Spain's Conchita Martinez won the women's title for a record fourth year in a row.

Muster broke Krajicek in the fifth game of the 28-minute first set, and again in the seventh. He slipped and fell in the opening game while trying to return Krajicek's serve, forcing a brief halt while he cleaned his racket and washed the clay dust off his hands.

Several players complained on Saturday that the wind, swirling in all directions and blowing dust into their faces, had made the court surface more of a hardcourt.

Krajicek, whose best wins have been indoors on carpet or outdoors on hardcourt, said the court played very differently from the one he had experienced in beating sixth seed Wayne Ferreira of South Africa the day before.

"It's pretty funny. Not ha-ha funny but strange. From the first day I have been complaining there is not any clay on the court and it's very dangerous and you slide," he said.

Krajicek's first break point came in the sixth game of the second set, but Muster saved it and then broke the Dutchman in the ninth game and held serve to go two sets ahead.

Krajicek, in his first Italian Open final after reaching the semi-finals of the Australian and French Opens in 1992 and 1993 respectively, refused to give in and came back strongly in the third set with two breaks.

The Austrian roared into a 4-1 lead in the final set, serving for the match at 5-3.

Krajicek had two break points to stay in the tournament but the Austrian killed them, took advantage and won on his first match point when his opponent's forehand return went wide.

Steffi Graf overcame a hesitant start to beat Slovakia's Karina Habsudova 4-6 6-2 7-5 in the final of the German Open clay-court tournament in Berlin yesterday.

Inspired by a partisan crowd, the top-seeded German finally ended Habsudova's resistance when she broke service at 5-5 in the third set and then served out for the match.

The 22-year-old Slovak had started the match superbly and showed no signs of nerves as she took the first set with a series of pinpoint shots down the lines, but she was unable to press home her advantage.