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Thomas musters up a hardcourt title

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If not for the scar on his left knee, Thomas Muster might have become known as a hardcourt specialist.

The 1995 French Open champion proved he can win on a surface other than clay by beating Sergi Bruguera 7-6 (8-6), 6-3, 6-1 in Sunday's men's final at the Lipton Championships.Muster last reached the Lipton final in 1989, when he was unable to play because of an accident with a drunk driver. Two ligaments in his knee were severed, leaving him susceptible to the rigors of a full hardcourt schedule.

"If I could play all year on it, I would play just on hardcourts," Muster said. "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 Austrian is off to his best start this year at 21-3, all on hardcourts. But the Lipton title was only his third on the surface, compared with 40 on clay.

"After the French Open, this is probably the biggest victory of my career," he said.

In the women's final Saturday, Martina Hingis needed only 44 minutes to beat Monica Seles 6-2, 6-1.

The result validated the 16-year-old Hingis' ascent to the top of the rankings. Even an opening-round loss could not have prevented her from becoming the youngest No. 1 player in history when the latest rankings were released today.

Muster, meanwhile, became the oldest Lipton champion at 29. His only other title in the United States came on a carpet surface at Boston in 1988.

Following his 1989 accident, Muster collected $700,000 in a lawsuit settlement. But he yearned to return to the Lipton final.

"It's the biggest justice I could have gotten, worth more than the $1 million I could have won in the lawsuit," he said. "Life is sometimes a bit scary because everything comes back. It's just a great moment."