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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Muster Seeks Glory at Site of Darkest Hour

KEY BISCAYNE, Florida -- Fate has taken a strange and ironic turn with Austrian Thomas Muster the top-ranked player in the world at the $4.1 million Lipton Championships.


His return to Lipton, set to begin Thursday, as No. 1 completes a long journey that began when Muster's career very nearly ended following the semifinals of this event in 1989.


Muster was a rising star at the top of his game seven years ago as he prepared to take on then No. 1 Ivan Lendl in the final of the prestigious event.


But following his semifinal victory, Muster was leaning over the trunk of one of the tournament-supplied cars when a drunk driver struck him down, severing the ligaments of his left knee.


His comeback, which culminated in a French Open title last year, has been nothing short of miraculous. And now the world's best clay court player is seeded ahead of former Lipton winners Pete Sampras, defending champion Andre Agassi and Michael Chang, and he is ready to defend his No. 1 ranking on the Florida hardcourts.


"You have to admire his ability to stay in there and keep plugging," Lipton Tournament chairmen Butch Buchholtz said Wednesday. "Maybe some other people wouldn't have come back."


Buchholtz said there was a bit of a strained relationship when Muster sued the tournament, the driver involved and General Motors, which supplied the tournament cars, following the accident.


"But Thomas always told me, 'It's not personal, Butch.' We're just glad he's back."


According to the ATP Tour, Muster could lose the top ranking he has held for a total of three weeks this year if he fails to reach the semifinals and Sampras wins or reaches the final with enough bonus points.


To win the title, Muster must break a string of six successive years of American champions here. Agassi won last year and in 1990, Sampras took the title in 1993 and 1994, while Chang won in 1992, after Jim Courier's 1991 victory.


The prospect of an eagerly anticipated showdown between co-world number ones Steffi Graf and Monica Seles in the women's competition fell apart when Seles pulled out still suffering from a shoulder injury she sustained in winning the Australian Open.


Graf, who came back from December foot surgery to win her first tournament of the year last weekend at Indian Wells, and Seles have not faced each other since last September's U.S. Open final.


"It seems she has serious tendinitis," Buchholz said. "Every time Monica serves, it seems to get worse."


With Seles out and Conchita Martinez not entered, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain will be the second women's seed, followed by Anke Huber of Germany and popular Argentine Gabriela Sabatini.