Match Stats/Report - Kuerten vs Muster, French Open third round, 1997


Hall of Fame
Gustavo Kuerten beat Thomas Muster 6-7(3), 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in the French Open third round, 1997 on clay

Kuerten, who was unseeded and ranked 66, would go onto win the event by beating Sergi Bruguera in the final. This would be his first title of an kind. Muster had won the event in 1995

Kuerten won 174 points, Muster 164

(Note: 1 point has been tracked via audio with ending unknown and on a small number of points, I've guessed serve type or minor information like serve direction and return type

Missing point Set 1, Game 7, Point 1)

Serve Stats
- 1st serve percentage (84/160) 53%
- 1st serve points won (64/84) 76%
- 2nd serve points won (33/76) 43%
- Aces 14
- Double Faults 7
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (38/160) 24%

- 1st serve percentage (122/178) 69%
- 1st serve points won (77/122) 63%
- 2nd serve points won (24/56) 43%
- Aces 4, Service Winners 1
- Double Faults 5
- Unreturned Serve Percentage (31/178) 17%

Serve Patterns
Kuerten served...
- to FH 37%
- to BH 58%
- to Body 5%

Muster served...
- to FH 22%
- to BH 74%
- to Body 3%

Return Stats
Kuerten made...
- 142 (39 FH, 102 BH, 1 ??), including 10 runaround FHs & 1 return-approach
- 1 Winner (1 BH)
- 26 Errors, comprising...
- 12 Unforced (2 FH, 10 BH), including 1 runaround FH
- 14 Forced (6 FH, 8 BH)
- Return Rate (142/173) 82%

Muster made...
- 115 (65 FH, 50 BH), including 19 runaround FHs
- 24 Errors, comprising...
- 18 Unforced (6 FH, 12 BH), including 1 runaround FH
- 6 Forced (2 FH, 4 BH)
- Return Rate (115/153) 75%

Break Points
Kuerten 8/24 (11 games)
Muster 5/17 (9 games)

Winners (including returns, excluding serves)
Kuerten 68 (32 FH, 20 BH, 9 FHV, 3 BHV, 4 OH)
Muster 36 (16 FH, 9 BH, 3 FHV, 1 FH1/2V, 2 BHV, 5 OH)

Kuerten's FHs -6 cc (2 passes), 7 dtl, 10 inside-out, 3 inside-in, 4 drop shots and 2 net chord dribblers
- BHs - 8 cc (1 return, 1 pass), 7 dtl (2 passes) and 5 drop shots (1 at net)

- 2 from serve-volley points (1 FHV, 1 BHV), both first volleys... the FHV was a net chord dribbler
- 1 from a return-approach point (1 FHV)

Muster's FHs - 3 cc (1 pass), 2 dtl (1 pass), 8 inside-out, 1 inside-out/dtl, 1 inside-in and 1 longline pass
- BHs - 3 cc (1 pass), 3 dtl, 1 dtl/inside-out pass, 1 longline/cc and 1 running-down-drop-shot cc at net

- 1 from a serve-volley point (1 BHV), a second volley

- 1 FHV was a non-net, swinging shot, 1 BHV was a lob and 3 OHs were on the bounce

Errors (excluding serves and returns)
Kuerten 90
- 62 Unforced (25 FH, 35 BH, 1 FHV, 1 BHV)
- 27 Forced (12 FH, 12 BH, 2 FHV, 1 BHV)
- 1 Unknown (either a FH or a BH... very likely unforced)
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 49.8

Muster 63
- 37 Unforced (19 FH, 16 BH, 2 OH)... with 1 BH pass attempt at net & 1 OH on the bounce from baseline
- 26 Forced (12 FH, 14 BH)... with 1 FH at net (a pass attempt), 1 FH running-down-drop-shot at net & 2 BH running-down-drop-shot at net
- Unforced Error Forcefulness Index 46.2

(Note 1: All 1/2 volleys refer to such shots played at net. 1/2 volleys played from other parts of the court are included within relevant groundstroke numbers)

(Note 2: the Unforced Error Forcefulness Index is an indicator of how aggressive the average UE was. The numbers presented for these two matches are keyed on 4 categories - 20 defensive, 40 neutral, 50 attacking and 60 winner attempt)

Net Points & Serve-Volley
Kuerten was...
- 33/45 (73%) at net, including...
- 2/6 (33%) serve-volleying, comprising...
- 2/4 (50%) off 1st serve and...
- 0/2 off 2nd serve
- 1/1 return-approaching

Muster was...
- 22/36 (61%) at net, including...
- 5/5 (100%) serve-volleying, all 1st serves
- 0/2 forced back

Match Report
Top class match of contrasting baseline styles, both played very, very well. Kuerten attacks from the back with wide angled cc shots + dtl ones while Muster thumps the ball in play safely while rarely missing. When he's on, Kuerten is usually the better player (not always and not necessarily to decisive degree) - but how sustainable is his 'on' play on clay? When he's not quite 'on', Muster edges ahead. Run of play and momentum fluctuates throughout match, but in the end, its slightly more Muster faltering than Kuerten stepping up that decides the result

Kuerten with 68 winners, 63 UEs (1 UE is unconfirmed) while forcing 26 errors out of Muster. Great figures. 52 of those winners are groundstrokes - overwhelming bunch of which are baseline-to-baseline - which is more remarkable still. He's not unduly aggressive either (as in, not going for broke type stuff). He rallies neutrally handily - both players hitting heftily, but is able to find or create angles either bit by bit or adventurously in one go

Muster with 36 winners, 37 UEs while forcing 27 errors out of Guga. Also great figures, particularly given he plays for consistency. He plays a lot of blunt angled shots or even longline off the BH and thumps the ball, without much loop. Its ball-bashing, not top-spin based play. He's forced on defensive and though not outrageously fast, is very good at the late-taken, sliding 'get'

Both players do well at net - Kuerten winning 73% net points and showing great instincts. He doesn't come in from overly strong approaches and most are 'sneak-in' types from neutral position. Muster misses just 1 'volley' (an OH) and looks very good at net too, winning 61% (and good lot he loses are against drop shots and have nothing to do with his volleying). Absolutely nothing of the uncomfortable volleyer in either player... they look as good up front as someone like Boris Becker

There's little in it between the two on basic stats.
2nd serve points won are dead even at 43% - a good indicator of how well both return
Kuerten with high 76% first serve points - considerably better than Muster's still solid 63% - is a good indicator of his stronger serve. Its effectively cancelled out by Muster serving at much higher percentage (69% to 53%)

As Kuerten is the playmaker, its easiest to describe play from his point of view. For first 2 sets, he's regularly striking astonishing winners off both sides to finish hard hitting rallies and he's striking them off both sides. Still loses the first set playing his best, but sweeps the second. For rest of match, the BH doesn't fire to that extent and higher lot of his winners are third balls set up by serve. Rarely are they obvious shot choices - Muster against the same ball hits balls slightly wide or deep (i.e. not going for winner) short of point endingly strong - but it is a step down from first two sets for Guga. He compensates some by coming to net more

Muster plays more evenly, thumping balls and being very consistent almost throughout. His attacking plays are FH inside-out based. At times, he struggles to return a bit. At the very end, he goes for a bit more on his shots, and becomes more error prone than at any other point in match. He's a break and 3-0 up in the fifth set, having the momentum by winning the 4th, with Guga faltering to the worst extent he had all match- but can win just 1 more game

Serve & Return
Kuerten has better of both sides of equation

He has a genuinely, big serve, as 14 aces somewhat testifies to. 'Somewhat' because Muster is also off on the return. About a third of Guga's aces aren't wholly unreturnable... but Muster makes no play on the ball. To be clear, they're good, strong, wide serves that would be difficult to return, but not so perfectly placed that returner need make no effort to try to return. Note also 18/24 or 75% Muster return errors being marked unforced. Bulk are regulation, in swing-zone or reached-with-a-step-or-two shots. Not easy for UEs due to pace, but from where Muster is standing (well behind baseline) more makeable than otherwise. He makes the overwhelming bulk of such returns. There's scope to better from Muster's point of view

Muster tends to return passively, in part due to his position. He takes good swing at ball, but if return lands short, Guga pounds the third ball for winners regularly. Here, I'd more credit Guga's shotmaking - the balls he dispatches are not particularly weak and his serve is strong enough that returning with authority is a challenge - rather than blackmark Muster's return. Suffice to say, Guga's first serve is a handy weapon to set up his first shot, but needs to moxie he shows in his aggressive shot choices to make most of

Muster's first serve by contrast is average. Gugu also returns from significantly behind baseline and is able to thump most returns back the way Muster can only do against second serves. And he is consistent doing so. 14/26 or just 26% of his return errors are unforced... Guga doesn't miss much that isn't particularly challenging. He's not faced with as many challenging returns though

In nutshell, Muster makes most tough first serve returns, but Guga proactively pounces on any, not particularly strong return, but misses a fair few average ones. Guga faces fewer tough serves, misses them at higher rate, but thumps most returns to neutralize servers advantage

Both players win identical 43% second serve points is a good outcome for Guga and less so for Muster. Both return powerfully and deep so points rallies start 50-50 or even with returner with slight advantage. For bulk of match, Muster is the better court player with his consistency advantage outdoing Guga's shot-making one. In that light, he'd look to win more or his second serve points. Here, Guga excels with some pressuringly wide returns, while Muster goes with deep returns down the middle that force Guga to fall back to play third ball


Hall of Fame
Both players runaround to hit FH returns, particularly Muster, who does so 19 times to Guga's 10. The runaround FHs aren't much different in strenght from the thumping BHs both men play and Muster in particular, moves over to play them even in deuce court

Play - Baseline & Net
Action is baseline stuff, though both players show fine net play - both volleying skill and instincts of when to come forward - when they occasionally turn to it

Its not quite Kuerten attacking, Muster counter-punching. There's plenty of neutral rallying - shaped by Muster's ball bashing, longline or blunt angled shots that Kuerten is quite up to meeting by hitting back in similar way. Bit by bit, Kuerten opens the court from these positions til he can hit a wide angled, attacking shot. He's not in undue hurry to get on attack and he doesn't go for attacking shots to regulation good balls. Essentially, though, Kuerten looks for court opening chances and attacks into it when he can do so while Muster ball bashes

Or Kuerten goes for the winner off third ball after drawing not-strong (as opposed to weak) return. Muster's attacks are confined to hitting deep to push Kuerten back, looking to beat him down. When he turns to this, Guga's largely upto hitting back from well behind baseline for awhile, but Muster usually succeeds in persisting with more deep shots - sometimes hit a bit wider, but not so far as to go for winners - to get the error. Lots of scope for Muster to come in to finish points in these situations. He usually doesn't

Kuerten's shotmaking is highlight of the match. The BH in particular, stands out as spectacular, though FH is more damaging. The contrast in the way the two players use the BH is startling. Muster hits almost longline to the extent that he's able to surprise Guga to get the error when he goes just ever so slightly inside-out. By contrast, when ball is in sideline half of Guga's BH court, there's no telling which way he'll go - sharply cc or dtl for a winner. Muster at such times falls well behind baseline, ready for anything. Guga's also able to utilize drop shots to punish Muster's falling back tendancy, on top of the orthodox groundstroke winner shots. Baseline to baseline, off the BH Kuerten's winners comprise 6 cc, 5 dtl and 4 drop shots. His shot making is measured in that he doesn't go overly close to lines, as you'd think he'd have to to get that many winners and virtually all shots land at least 6 inches in court

9 of Guga's 20 BH winners come in first set, meaning he hits a still solid 11 in remaining 4. The shot looks great, but on whole, isn't particularly destructive. It remains threatening for most of match and shapes Muster's defensive court position when ball is on that side, but he's also got match high 35 UEs. With high UEFI of 49.8, that's a good lot of missing off the BH. .. more than making

Off FH, Guga's start shot after rallying is dtl, where he has 7 winners. He has 10 inside-out, but good lot of those are third balls set up by the serve. Usually not putaway balls, but requiring moxy to go for, let alone make. The final piece in Gugu's attacking repertoire is coming to net. Unlike Muster, he doesn't necessarily have to as he's quite capable of ending points with his wide shots from the back and when in charge from the back, usually goes that route. Good lot of his 38 approaches from rallies are from neutral-ish positions - sneak in's and quick dashes to net - and his instincts are flawless. He wins 30 points rallying to net

FH inside-out is Muster's start damaging shot - and the only one that stands out as impressive. He has 9 winners with the shot, usually after taking command with deep shots from rallies. Otherwise, he keeps pounding balls deep to beat an error out of Guga. Though not coming in as much - and there's plenty of chances for him to, when he's got Guga pinned well behind baseline - Muster is very impressive at net too. He looks comfortable up there, doesn't miss a volley and places his volleys well. There's a angled drop FHV winner that's perfect as can be and a touch, drop FH1/2V that McEnroe would be proud of. He even throws in the odd serve-volley and is perfect 5/5 on the play. 61% net points won isn't too great, but large lot of the points he loses are in coping with Guga's drop shots. Reputation for coming to net just to shake hands aside, very good play from Muster - he' d have done well to come in more

Neutrally, Muster plays slightly more to Kuerten's FH - both with BH cc and FH longlines. There's an element of him baiting Guga to go for an adventurous shot on top of just testing his consistency. Would have been wiser to bait and test the BH in this way more because Guga's looser on that side in both ways. Muster's FH cc is also bit stronger than his BH cc

Defensively, Muster is given much more scope to showcase his abilities. His court coverage is good, without being great but his late sliding, poking get is very good. One wouldn't look at his movements and be particularly impressed by it. Guga has less running to do, is a bit slower (still within good range of movement) and also adept at the defensive 'get'. As with on the return, Muster occasionally lets drop shots go without chase

The gap in winners and gap in UEs is the same
- Winners - Guga +32
- UEs - Muster +26 (as in, Guga has 26 more)

... in last set, Muster getting a bit more error prone is notable. At start of set, he had almost as many FEs as UEs. By match end, he's got 11 more UEs. This is due to Muster's consistency dropping more than Guga's going up

Guga's UEFI is high, as you'd expect from the way he plays at 49.8. Muster's is higher than his longline and blunt angled hitting would promise at 46.2. Breakdown of errors -
- Defensive - Guga 1, Muster 0
- Neutral - Guga 24, Muster 20
- Attacking - both 11
- Winner Attempts - Guga 26, Muster 6

Guga's being able to hang in trading regulation, hard hitting neutral groundies with the machine like Muster is reflected neutral numbers. And his choosing to finish points with a flourish is reinforced by the winner attempt ones

Match Progression
Match starts with a series of easy holds and server wins first 13 points and 17 of the first 18. Muster is hard hitting off both sides with a good lot of longline shots around middle of court, Guga is hard hitting and apt to go for a wide angled shot. Play is on Guga's racquet and there's no obvious need for him to be as attacking as he is. He excels at it though and hits some amazing winners, especially BH cc at sharp angles and shows great touch with drop shots

Couple of BH errors and missing a FH winner attempt sees Guga broken and couple games later, Muster steps up to serve for the set at 5-4. Thus begins the spectacular part of the set, with Guga breaking to love with 3 winners and a very widely angled, error forcing BH. Muster's next service games opens with 5 winners between the two players and there are 12 in total in 20 point game that Guga eventually wins. He can't serve out the set either, and it goes to tiebreak

Its net play and a serve-volley that puts Muster over in the tiebreak

In second set, Guga unloads with a series of winners (and errors trying). Both breaks are in long games, with 2 net chord dribbling winners contributing to the second as he moves ahead 5-0. Muster serve-volleys 3 points in a row to hold, before Guga serves it out to even match

Muster struggles a bit to return in third set and Guga gets decent number unreturned serves, dispatches weak returns and comes to net more to finish. From Muster's point of view, the good news is at least its only off the FH that Guga is deadly

In 4th set, Guga starts missing his point finishing shots more often while Muster serves a bit better. Guga is likely tiring, misses some regulation neutral shots and rarely, makes less than whole hearted effort to run down balls. Couple of poor games and open court misses from Guga proves costly. Muster by contrast plays and moves as solidly as he has all match

Muster breaks to go up 3-0 to start the decider. He takes to moving Guga around more (as opposed to ball bashingly pushing him back). Its Muster that stumbles though and starts making UEs to balls he'd dealt with comfortably all match. 14/37 of his UEs come in the set

Games remain tough though after Guga breaks back. He gains the decisive break with 2 of his best returns - a BH cc return winner (the only return winner of the match) and a BH dtl return that he follows to net (the only return approach of the match) that ends with a FHV winner. Guga serves out to love

Summing up, great match with Kuerten attacking and Muster playing solidly from the baseline. Some good serving from Kuerten and Muster's returning has room for improvement without being bad. Kuerten's shotmaking - both to dispatch not-strong returns and more so, after good lenght rallies where Muster looks to keep court closed - is often spectacular. The BH looks particularly so, though it misses more than it makes, the FH is more reliable point finisher and he throws in perfect drop shots and shows impeccable net instincts while holding his own in hard hitting neutral rallies

Muster looks to thump balls hard around middle of court and wait for beat down errors. He's consistent off the ground, defends ably and when he turns to it, very good at net too

Some typical great shots from Kuerten at the end, and Muster faltering a bit off the ground is what pushes the ending the way it goes

@Drob - thoughts?
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Terrific recap. After finishing the fourth set strong, Muster appeared to have the momentum in the fifth. However, although he held on for 3-0 thanks to a pair of impressive angled backhand winners, some perplexing unforced errors crept into Muster's game early in the final set. Perhaps it was Kuerten's firepower from all parts of the court that made Muster press. Or it was a subtle lack of match closing confidence due to his poor clay court season. Most likely, it was a combination of the two.

Kuerten appeared on the verge of despair after quickly losing his serve in the second game of the fifth, but Muster's wavering in the ensuing game re-ignited Guga's hope a bit. Once Muster gave away his serve in the fifth game, the outcome was a toss-up. The ninth game of the decider, with Muster serving at 4-4, essentially decided the match. Muster played an effective game and had a couple of game points, but Kuerten hit dazzling winners on each of those occasions and eventually wrestled the break to go up 5-4. Kuerten then served out the match at love.

Muster was riding high entering April of 1997, having won Key Biscayne and Dubai to go alongside semifinal runs in Australia and Indian Wells. He was the clear cut second best player in the world at that point. With any kind of decent clay season, Muster likely would've surpassed Sampras again for the #1 ranking.

Then things went puzzlingly awry for the Austrian. He lost a five set Davis Cup match to Ivanisevic on clay after having beaten Ivanisevic soundly on hard courts in Melbourne and Dubai. The loss seemingly triggered concerns for Muster with his extra-long Kneissl racquet, which he had credited for aiding his strong play on hard courts to open the campaign. He later complained that the longer racquet didn't allow him to spin the ball and create angles as effectively on clay.

Consequently, Muster played the remainder of the clay court season with various racquets (and lengths). In Monte Carlo, Muster appeared to use his 1996 standard-length Kneissl, but in Hamburg he was back to the extra-long. In Rome, Muster again switched back to his 1996 racquet. By the time Muster got to Roland Garros, Kneissl had supplied him with some standard-length 1996 racquets painted to look like the '97 extra-long. All of the tinkering undoubtedly affected Muster's confidence.

It's also highly likely that Muster let his guard down ever so slightly after achieving such a satisfying, meaningful victory in Key Biscayne. He had silenced the critics who doubted his ability to play on anything other than clay, and he had won at the venue where his career was nearly ended in 1989. Perhaps he was mentally and somewhat physically drained entering the clay season. The motivation to dig deep at Barcelona, Monte Carlo, etc. likely wasn't as high.

With all of that said, most pundits still felt that Muster was one of the favorites at Roland Garros. On paper, his draw looked good. After surviving a five set struggle with Goellner and a controversial four setter with Tarango, it looked like Muster might be gaining momentum. As the writer of this recap detailed, Muster played quite well against Kuerten. Muster later said it was likely his best match of the year on clay. But it wasn't enough. Guga's superior serve and ability to strike point winning groundstrokes from highly defensive positions were skills that Muster had not encountered much during his clay court dominance in 1995 and 1996. Thus, this match effectively illustrated a changing of the guard of sorts.

Kuerten famously went on to run the table and win the 1997 French Open. He went from total unknown to superstar in the span of two weeks. Following a bit of an adjustment period, Guga was around or at the top of the sport from 1999 through 2001 before hip problems derailed him. Even so, Guga impressively dismantled Federer at the 2004 French Open in the early stages of Federer's most dominant stretch.

Muster's struggles persisted into the summer of '97 until, back on hard courts, he made an emotive run to the Cincinnati final. A rough first round draw of Henman doomed his US Open campaign, however. Muster played fairly well indoors in the fall of '97 and had some nice moments during the spring of 1998, including a French Open quarterfinal run, but he never won another tournament. The Key Biscayne title was fittingly his last.


Both players runaround to hit FH returns, particularly Muster, who does so 19 times to Guga's 10. The runaround FHs aren't much different in strenght from the thumping BHs both men play and Muster in particular, moves over to play them even in deuce court

@Drob - thoughts?
Just superb account of the match - even by your standards.

As you know, I thought the match was a master class in aggressive clay-court tennis from the teenager.

Your stats show that the eye test, and/or medium-term memory can deceive. Would not have thought Kuerten had quite so high number of errors, though surely remember plenty of errors. Would have said he had more backhand winners. Guess fooled by how impressive that BH can be AT TIMES. Wonder now if this pattern held in his more mature career. Guga is rated one of the better backhands of all time. Was this slightly more because it was so artistically pleasing than because of sheer force and consistency? :unsure:

You know, if asked for a top-10 backhands I have seen on television, video recording or live, I might include that of Pablo Cuevas. Yet, obviously Pablo's could not have been quite that great. Beauty and bottom-line effectiveness two different things of course. Guga had both, but perhaps less of the second than usually supposed.

What is UEFI again?
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