PARIS -- First he brought a decidedly overwhelmed Michael Chang, the grown-up version of the 17-year-old 1989 French Open champion, to his knees on the clay of Roland Garros; then Thomas Muster, the new and undisputed king of red clay, dropped onto his back and rubbed his eyes in disbelief after finally scaling and prevailing on the surface of his dreams.
"My dreams since I was a kid have come true today," said Muster, 27, who used a mighty and masterful 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 victory in the French Open final on a grim, gray Sunday afternoon to become the first Austrian to capture a Grand Slam crown.
Muster, a clay specialist even before the 1989 accident that rendered his left knee unfit for other surfaces, has been unbeatable on clay this year -- with a 35-0 record -- and close to perfect upon it in most others.
But yesterday he finally secured the title of the world's most special clay event on his 10th attempt.
Muster has chased this title with increasing desperation ever since he reached the junior final 10 years ago and came within two rounds of winning it five years ago.
Unlike Chang's sleeper run to the 1989 title as a teen-aged underdog, Muster's route to the French Open crown has been as arduous as it was epic: it was only the dream of winning this title someday that provided him with sufficient motivation to rehabilitate a left knee that was virtually shattered when he was struck by a drunken driver a few months before Chang won here.
Muster said the wait, and the work, were all worth it.
"Whenever I was making match points in unimportant matches, I had in my mind that this is the match point of Roland Garros, and today it was a reality," he said.
He also maintained that he preferred capturing his heart's desire at this stage of his career, when he won't be burdened by expectations.
"When you win it at 17, everyone says you're a wonderkid, or whatever, and when you're 17, winning could change and turn over your whole life," said Muster. "But nobody can say that about me: this wonder kid is old and he has no hair, but I can live with that problem."
Chang, in contrast, has to live with the fact that his first Slam title may very well turn out to be his only one. This was his first Grand Slam final since his one here six years ago, when he followed his fourth-round defeat of Ivan Lendl by stunning Stefan Edberg in a five-set final.
This championship was the first such major title for Muster in 28 appearances at Grand Slam events, and it happened in his long-delayed first appearance in a Slam final.