KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. - Thomas Muster felt he had justice on his side against Sergi Bruguera in Sunday's final at the Lipton Championships.
Muster capped his comeback from a knee injury at Lipton eight years ago, withstanding 106-degree heat to beat Bruguera 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-1.
Muster last reached the Lipton final in 1989, when he was unable to play because of an accident with a drunk driver shortly after his victory in the semifinals. He severed two ligaments in his left knee, and the injury almost ended his career.
"This is very emotional," Muster told the crowd. "After what happened eight years ago, I felt today was a great day of justice for me."
By winning, the Austrian earned $360,000 and validated his contention that he's more than a clay-court specialist. The title was his third on hardcourts, compared with 40 on clay, including the 1995 French Open.
"After the French Open, this is probably the biggest victory of my career," Muster said.
In the women's doubles final, Natasha Zvereva and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario beat Sabine Appelmans and Miriam Oremans 6-2, 6-3.
Following his 1989 accident, Muster collected $700,000 in a lawsuit settlement. But the injury robbed his knee of flexibility and left him susceptible to the rigors of a full hardcourt schedule.
"I always felt like I play well on this stuff," he said. "If I could play all year on it, I would play just on hardcourts and maybe I'd be a hardcourt specialist. They'd say, `This guy can't play on clay.'
"Obviously the only thing left now is, `He can't play on grass.' Since I have a grass court in my backyard, I'm going to work on that."
The second-ranked Muster becomes the oldest Lipton champion at age 29. His only other title in the United States came on a carpet surface at Boston in 1988.
The courtside temperature read 106 at the start of the final, so both players knew an early lead was vital. There were no break points in the first set, and after Bruguera squandered two set points in the tiebreaker, the match turned on a thrilling point at 6-6.
Muster chased down a shot in the corner and returned a lob. Bruguera hit an overhead down the middle, and Muster - his back literally against the wall - punched a weak overhead. Bruguera slammed another overhead, and Muster leaped to punch back another desperate shot.
It floated over Bruguera's head and landed on the sideline.
"I wasn't ready to hit it," Bruguera said. "I thought it was going out, maybe because I wanted it to."
The Spaniard managed only a meek backhand into the net.
"He couldn't finish the point," Muster said. "He should have finished it."
The crowd roared as Muster pumped his fist, and he closed out the set on the next point with a backhand winner.
"The first set was very tough," said Bruguera, who was bothered by blisters on his feet. "When I lost my big chances, I felt very tired and very down in my mind. I tried to come back, but I was feeling so tired."
When Muster raced to a 3-0 lead in the second set, the outcome of the match was clear.
"It was hot," he said. "It was about just taking the pain today - who can take it longer."
Bruguera lost to Muster for the ninth consecutive time. But the Spaniard beat third-ranked Michael Chang and top-ranked Pete Sampras on his way to the final, and he earned $190,000.
Bruguera, ranked 81st at the start of the year, will now climb into the top 20. Muster can't catch Sampras until the French Open, at the earliest.
"It doesn't matter who won which event on hardcourt or grass or whatever," Muster said. "He deserves to be No. 1 because he won enough Grand Slams and enough tournaments, and I didn't."
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