Frozen In Time: 1996 Davis Cup - Austria vs. Brazil By Dominic Bliss

Austria’s 1996 Davis Cup clash away against Brazil saw some of the worst crowd behaviour in modern times. The visiting team was so appalled that they refused to play on.
 
Davis Cup ties in South America are always feisty, no matter who’s playing. But the 1996 clash between Austria and Brazil was perhaps feistier than most.
 
The setting was the Hotel Transamerica, an up market 5-star resort in Sao Paulo. But if the visiting Austrian team thought they were due for a warm, 5-star welcome, they were very much mistaken.
 
On the second day of the World Group qualifying round tie Thomas Muster and Udo Plamberger were up against locals Gustavo Kuerten and Jaime Oncins in the doubles rubber. The match was very tight, right from the start, with the first set going to Brazil in a tiebreak. Then things started to see-saw until it reached two sets apiece. The vociferous home crowd, sensing an exciting denouement, began to get more and more restless. Some were spotted throwing objects onto the court, and using mirrors or wristwatches to reflect sunlight into the eyes of the Austrian players in order to distract them.
 
Thomas Muster was incensed at the crowd’s behaviour. Two-love down in the deciding fifth set he stormed off the court, refusing to complete the match, handing the Brazilians a 2-1 lead in the tie. When his team-mates then ruled themselves out of the following day’s reverse singles, Brazil were awarded an overall victory of 4-1 and a place in the following year’s World Group.
 
“It was absolutely impossible for me to go out on court again,” Muster said after the dust had barely settled. “For three and a half hours we were sworn at, had things hurled at us, spat upon. I want police protection and will never again play here. This country should finally be punished. If this is Davis Cup, I don’t want anything more to do with it. The people here are like animals.”
 
Other members of the Austrian team claimed they had heard death threats form the Brazilian supporters.
 
The home team remained unrepentant, however. “This is certainly the most stupid excuse I have ever heard,” said Brazil’s Davis Cup Captain Paulo Cleto. “Nobody is shot because of tennis.”
 
And Davis Cup’s governing body, the International Tennis Federation, came down firmly on the side of the South American team. Austria’s request to have the tie replayed at a neutral venue was flatly refused. To make matters worse the team was then ordered to forfeit its £35,000 match fee for refusing to complete the tie, and Muster himself was fined over £5,000. “Most of the things spectators were accused of were not substantiated,” insisted the ITF president Brian Tobin.
 
Muster later tried to have his fine overturned, but without success. “Brazil has gotten away with it,” he said a few weeks later, still upset at the decision. “Bottles and stones were thrown. And personal comments. If you allow the [Davis Cup fans] to make the pressure on the players and they don't see their team winning by tactical play, then I think it is wrong.”

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