Muller: “Everything was like in a movie”
Gilles Muller reflects on achieving one of his biggest goals following his emotional victory at Apia International Sydney on Saturday night.
As he held the microphone at Ken Rosewall Arena, the enormity of the occasion hit Gilles Muller.
In his sixth ATP final – his first appearance coming almost 13 years earlier – he had finally claimed victory. The legendary Rod Laver presented him with the champion’s trophy. His wife and two young sons were watching from the stands.
And he burst into tears.
The 33-year-old was showered with applause from the sympathetic crowd, who knew they were witnessing a moment that truly meant the world to him.
“Everything that happened tonight was like in a movie,” Muller said after beating Dan Evans in straight sets. “Rod Laver there, standing on centre court with the trophy, my kids in the stands, can’t ask for more.
“Like you can see, I was pretty emotional out there on the court. I was waiting a long time. Played my first final in 2004. We are 2017 now, and I waited 13 years to win my first title. I’m just very happy.”
Muller’s success at this age is hardly unprecedented – players like Roger Federer, Feliciano Lopez and Ivo Karlovic continue to flourish well into their mid 30s.
But the fact he’s enjoying career-best form, after a pro career that began in 2001 and after a serious battle with injury, is nevertheless noteworthy. The man from Luxembourg, whose best result at a Grand Slam came back in 2008 when he reached the US Open quarterfinals, rises to world No.28 as a result of his Apia International triumph – a career-high mark.
And it comes after a season during which he tasted bitter defeat in two more ATP finals; until Saturday night in Sydney his record in title matches stood at an unenviable 0-5.
“For the past two or three years, it was probably my biggest goal to win a title,” he said.
“I always dreamed of that, and I was so close last year. I had match points in Newport in the finals against Karlovic, so I was very scared and worried that I was going to be one of those players that maybe would never win a title.
“Now I have it, and it just feels great.”
It may well never have happened, considering his battles with injuries over the years. The most significant came in 2013 – an elbow injury prevented him from even holding a racquet and sidelined him for seven months.
Yet this perhaps proved more a blessing than a curse.
Muller was diligent during his time out, working extremely hard to get his body into supreme physical condition. His experience as a professional athlete also helped guide his approach to training and fitness – Muller said he is now more disciplined in his off-court work, training more specifically and favouring quality over quantity.
When he returned to the court at the beginning of 2014 after his lengthy absence, he said he was in the best condition he’d ever been.
“Since then I’m able to play consistently throughout the whole season and without missing tournaments because of little injuries, without having bad weeks every month,” he said.
“I think this is, for me, what changed everything.”
Enhanced physical conditioning and the desire to hoist that maiden ATP trophy have undoubtedly been driving forces behind such success in the twilight of his career.
But perhaps the biggest motivating factor has been his young family. Muller said that when he was laid low with injury in 2013, keeping him going was a desire to get healthy so his children could watch him play.
That happened this week in Sydney. And he could not have achieved his dream in more fitting style.
“(I wanted) to keep playing, to keep coming back so they would see and know what their dad was doing,” Muller said.
“And they are in the stands, watching me play, and to win this title in front of them was just amazing.”