Muller's Magical Ride Begins Final Chapter
Fourteen years ago, Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller stepped on court at the Citi Open for his first ATP World Tour semi-final. It was like the 21-year-old was living a dream, as childhood idol Andre Agassi stood across the net.
Muller had celebrated only one ATP World Tour win before the D.C. tournament. But when the left-hander curled a forehand winner down the line to clinch his first Top 10 victory, Muller shocked himself and his country, becoming the first player from Luxembourg to reach a tour-level final.
“That was probably the moment I realised that I made it for the first time,” Muller, who was No. 124 in the ATP Rankings at the time, told ATPWorldTour.com. “When I played against him there, it was kind of a dream come true. I think it was one of the nicest moments of my career.”
Muller would lose to former World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt the next day, but that was just the beginning of a fruitful career for Luxembourg’s greatest tennis player, who will retire after the US Open. He made his decision public right before leaving for the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open in Newport, Rhode Island. But most of all, he was happiest to tell his sons, Lenny (7) and Nils (6).
“It was a nice moment because I’ve been traveling a lot. It’s not easy for the kids. They were very supportive all these years, but I felt that they were very happy when I told them that this would be my last year and that pretty soon I was going to be home all the time,” Muller said. “They were very happy about it and I was very happy also to tell them.”
Now 35, Muller has competed professionally for 18 years. During that time, he has earned 233 tour-level match wins, climbed as high as World No. 21, and won his first two ATP World Tour titles last year (Sydney, ‘s-Hertogenbosch), all records for players from his country. So why stop now?
“It was going through my mind many times. I just felt like I had to make the decision and also be firm on it because I was going back and forth all the time. ‘Maybe I could play another year, maybe I could do this, maybe I could do that’,” Muller said. “But then because I was thinking so much about it, I felt that it was the right time now to do it, to stop and to move on.”
But Muller has not spent the past few months reflecting on what he has done, like earning 12 wins against Top 10 opponents and just a year ago, beating Rafael Nadal to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. Instead, he has maintained his focus to make the most of his remaining time as a professional.
“I think the biggest goal is to cherish every moment. Over the last years, you don’t realise what a chance you have as a professional tennis player to travel around. There comes a point when everything becomes a lot sometimes, traveling around, all the stress and you forget the nice parts about it,” Muller said. “I want to do that again like when I started as a junior, seeing everything for the first time. I want to cherish everything and have fun, be happy and just also give it 100 per cent until the last point is played.”
And really, it’s that focus and determination that has helped make Muller one of the more consistent players of his generation, finishing inside the Top 100 nine times. He has become known for his pinpoint lefty serve and overall toughness on the court, which has helped him trouble some of the best players in the world. Beating Nadal twice at Wimbledon (also in 2005) and ousting Andy Roddick at the 2005 US Open are a few of the wins — besides defeating Agassi — that stick out. Muller also became the second qualifier to reach a US Open quarter-final, achieving the feat in 2008.
“I’m very happy [with my career]. A lot of people that I play with now, those guys are coming from countries where tennis and sports have a big tradition. Where I come from, when you’re like 10 or 12 years old and you say, ‘I want to be a tennis pro’, people kind of laugh at you because nobody believes in themselves,” Muller said. “Nobody thinks that you can do it, so there are many positive things about it, being from Luxembourg.”
And while in hindsight, Muller believes he could have done a few things differently to have enjoyed an even more successful career, he says he does not believe in regrets. The father of two is simply proud of his accomplishments.
“Firstly, I’m proud of what I did for myself, for my family,” Muller said. “I was always very proud to represent Luxembourg in Davis Cup or at the Olympics. One of my nicest memories is going to be when I was the flag bearer at the Rio Olympics. That’s a memory that I will always keep for the rest of my life.”
Muller isn’t sure what’s next for him, and he does not want to rush into anything. However, he’d love to stay involved in tennis, which he loves. “It’s my passion. I would love to help kids fulfill their dreams in any sport in Luxembourg. I think there’s a lot of potential there, but it hasn’t been exploited all the way,” he said.
‘Mulles’, who started playing tennis at age 5, remembers being that kid with big dreams.
“I think I never forgot where I came from,” Muller said. “I think it’s very important to stay with both feet on Earth, and I think I did that pretty well.”