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Muster, Krajicek Reach Italian Open Final

May 18, 1996

ROME (AP) _ Hobbled by blisters and having squandered a big lead in the third set, Thomas Muster persevered amid heat and wind Saturday for a 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Alberto Costa to advance to the Italian Open final.

Muster, the defending champion and top seed, will meet Dutch serve-and-volley specialist Richard Krajicek in the best-of-5 set final at Foro Italico.

Krajicek beat No. 6 seed Wayne Ferreira in the other semifinal 6-3, 6-3, to reach only the second clay court final of his career.

Muster needed all his resilience to put away Costa, especially after the 11th-seeded Spaniard rallied from 1-4 down to 4-4 in the third set.

``I made the game,″ Muster said. ``I forced the points. That’s why at the end I deserved to win.″

Costa, who beat Muster last year in Kitzbuhel, Austria, and extended him to five sets in the Monte Carlo final last month, won many of the long rallies but couldn’t convert when he needed it most.

``Today I really had the illusion I could win,″ Costa said after the 1-hour, 54-minute match. ``But Muster is very strong psychologically. That’s really the little difference between us.″

The match was played in tricky conditions, with swirling winds kicking up dust on the center court and temperatures soaring into the 90s.

The two players often stood several feet behind the baseline, trading heavy groundstrokes. Muster tried to dictate the points, but Costa held his own and managed to break the rhythm with drop shots.

Muster appeared headed to victory after sweeping through the first set and staying in command for the first few games of the second.

But Costa turned the match around by breaking in the eighth game. He saved a break point in the next game before serving an ace on set point, shouting encouragement to himself.

But the momentum shifted again as Muster raced to a 3-0 lead in the third set, winning the first 10 points and 13 out of 14. After holding serve for a 4-1 lead, Muster took an injury timeout for treatment of blisters on both feet.

Costa then won the next three games to even the set at 4-4. Muster held at 15 for 5-4 and broke Costa in the next game to close out the match.

After Costa botched a forehand on match point, Muster threw up his arms and screamed as if he had just won a Grand Slam tournament. Costa, exhausted, tossed his racket to the net and both men embraced.

``It was a very physical game for both of us,″ Muster said. ``At the end I had a few more shots. Costa plays about the same game that I do. He’s very difficult to play. He’s very good on the angles and is very fit. It’s just a question of who could put more pressure on the other. I could do that today.″

Muster, who has a 93-3 record on clay over the past two years, advanced to his fifth clay court final of 1996. He has already won tournaments at Mexico City, Estoril, Barcelona and Monte Carlo. Last year, Muster won the same events and the Italian Open, then went on to capture the French Open for his first Grand Slam title.

Krajicek is a surprise finalist. His only previous appearance in a clay court final was in Barcelona in 1994.

Muster and Krajicek have played twice before, both times on clay. Muster won in three sets in Barcelona in 1993, but Krajicek won 6-4, 6-4, in Hamburg in 1994.

``This tournament comes a little out of the blue,″ Krajicek said. ``There’s no way I could have predicted I’d be in the final. But when I’m playing like this, there are only a few guys who can beat me on clay.″

Krajicek’s match with Ferreira was more notable for the numerous disputed line calls than for the quality of the tennis. Time after time, the chair umpire was forced to come down and check for the mark.

At one stage in the second set, Ferreira and Krajicek met at the net to complain about the judging.

``I don’t think anybody saw anything today,″ Ferreira said. ``It was a pretty bad effort on all sides from the umpire and linespeople.″

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