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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Muster, Graf Grab Clay-Court Titles

COMBINED REPORTS


ROME -- Thomas Muster mastered the swirling winds, the slippery court and Richard Krajicek's serve-and-volley to win the Italian Open for his fifth clay-court title of the year.


Muster, the defending champion and top seed, on Sunday used his punishing baseline game to beat the unseeded Dutchman 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, in just over two hours and reassert himself as the favorite for the French Open.


The victory gave Muster his 38th career clay-court title and extended his record on the surface over the past two years to 95-3. This year, he has defended all five titles he had won at this stage in 1995: Mexico City, Estoril, Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Rome.


Muster plays next week in St. Poelten, Austria, before going to Paris to defend his French Open title.


"There is no must for me to be the favorite," the Austrian said. "I am, I guess, because I've played well, but there is no guarantee. I'm expecting to do well, but if I don't, I won in Paris once already. There is much less pressure than last year."


Krajicek said Muster, who has a chance of reclaiming the No. 1 ranking from Pete Sampras for the start of the French on May 27, has the edge over most of the field.


"He's not completely unbeatable but almost," he said. "What makes him No. 1 or No. 2 is he is winning all the big points, or 99 percent of the big points."


That was the case Sunday on a gray, blustery day at the Foro Italico.


Krajicek, a 1.96-meter serve-and-volleyer who played some of the best clay-court tennis of his career to reach the final, couldn't match Muster's baseline power and consistency.


The Dutchman struggled with his serve, the wind and the slippery conditions. He had 52 unforced errors, compared to just 14 for Muster.


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Steffi Graf won her ninth German Open but was forced to battle over three tough sets before ending the upset run of Slovakia's Karina Habsudova.


The top-seeded German let a match point slip away, then rebounded to win 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 Sunday at the $926,000 tournament against her 54th-ranked opponent, who had ousted three top-20 players to reach the final.


Graf screamed "dumb" when she let her first match point escape at 5-4 in the third set, hitting a short hopper that Habsudova whipped into the court.


"I thought, stupid, why can't you keep the ball in play," Graf said. "But I must say, she played some unbelievable shots."


Graf recovered in the next game to break the serve of Habsudova, who had already ousted Germany's Anke Huber, France's Mary Pierce and Swiss teenager Martina Hingis.


Habsudova, 22, who has been slowed by injuries during the past three years, began the year ranked No. 98. She will break the top-30 next week.


Graf, who has won the German Open more than any other tournament in her career, said the title restored some of her confidence for the French Open, which starts May 27.


Graf was stunned by her poor play when she was ousted in Rome last week by Hingis in the quarterfinals. It was her first clay-court tournament of the year.


"To win on clay again was very important," Graf said. "But the uncertainly is still there -- it's not gone yet."


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