Team Austria finished its second tie of the ATP Cup in Sydney at 12:01am Tuesday. The country’s captain, Thomas Muster, celebrated with his team, did a television interview, made sure his players were taken care of, before eventually heading back to his hotel — nearly 30 minutes away — in the early hours of the morning.
At 11am that same day, Muster was in tournament transportation back to the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre with his tennis bag in tow. Among the activities for his team were a 1pm Strategy Room session (one hour) and a 3pm practice (90 minutes). This is on his country’s off day.
“I don’t really need a hotel, I should just be staying here because there are so few hours of sleep, I might as well have a couch here. That’s what it feels like,” Muster told ATPTour.com. “I haven’t seen anything [in Sydney] except New Year’s Eve fireworks, but that was about it. Other than that, I’ve only seen the courtesy cars, the hotel and pretty much this place. Fair enough, that’s what I’m here for. It’s not a holiday, we know that.
“I want the players to feel well and to be prepared well and that’s what I’m here for: to serve the players, to talk to them, to advise them.”
To say Muster is taking his role as Austrian captain seriously would be a major understatement. The former World No. 1 is doing everything in his power to put his country in position to win.
“I always enjoy being around tennis. That’s me. But looking at the event, I think it’s amazing the way it’s organised around the country. It’s great to see,” Muster said. “If you look at the intensity the guys have, the way they’re supporting the teams, the captains, but also the players, is very professional. It’s on a very high level.”
Perhaps nobody has been more intense and emotional than Muster himself. From leading Strategy Room and practice sessions to cheering his players on from the Team Zone, the lefty has given the Austrians everything he has. Muster has been notably vocal with his players during changeovers, even during doubles matches that have come after the tie has been decided. With every big shot and every big moment, Muster has been the first out of his seat.
On Monday evening, Austrian No. 2 Dennis Novak lost his first set 0-6 against gritty Argentine Guido Pella. The 26-year-old took a bathroom break after the set, with Muster walking alongside him on the way.
“It was a rough speech,” Novak said, cracking a smile. “But actually he just told me to start moving better, hitting the ball, going for it, not waiting for him to miss. And that’s what I changed. I think I stepped in the court, and I played some really good shots.”
After Muster’s speech, Novak turned things around and defeated Pella en route to Austria’s 3-0 win against Argentina. Whatever the 1995 Roland Garros champion said — however strongly worded — worked.
“That shows that he really means it like this. So he’s not making a show or something or he just focusses on one player or on the doubles,” Novak said. “He’s really into every guy on the team, and that’s really important.”
World No. 4 Dominic Thiem is the superstar of Austria’s team, but not to Muster. The captain is treating everyone equally to help foster a sense of unity.
“They’re hearing a few things from me that they haven’t heard from anyone in particular, so we’re trying to work as a team. There’s nobody special on that team. We’re all the same, we’re all treated the same and that’s good. No stars,” Muster said. “I don’t accept any star attitude in there and I want everybody to work for the others. That’s how you get stronger as a team and it’s more appreciated, too. I don’t need primadonnas on my team.”
Many personal coaches in attendance at the ATP Cup have taken the lead in working with their respective player during matches. But even though Nicolas Massu is in Sydney, Muster has not been shy about helping coach Thiem through tough moments.
“He’s showing an incredible energy,” Thiem said. “It’s a big honour for us. I mean, he’s one of the greatest athletes from Austria of all-time. Have him on the bench, have all the tips from him, all the energy from him is really nice.”
To Muster, his team’s togetherness has been one of the things that has stuck out. And he has enjoyed how everyone has given it their all for their country.
“I can only speak for my guys and they’re very intense, they very much love the team spirit. We all enjoy it because it doesn’t happen so many times,” Muster said. “I think especially coming out of [the] break, everybody has been practising and working on things. To come together and enjoy something like that and an event like this, it’s amazing. What’s so special is it’s all around the country. I’m very happy with what I see.”
Muster has put a lot of hard work into Team Austria at this inaugural event. But he doesn’t mind; if Muster commits himself to something, he dedicates himself to the max.
“If I’m just sitting watching tennis, I might as well do that just at home on television,” Muster said. “I want to be part of the team and the crew, I want the best for them and if I see they’re fighting and they’re giving it everything and every shot they have, it’s fair enough to support them. That’s why I do it.”