Mueller returns to tennis with tournament win

PHOTO VIA FACEBOOK Matt Mueller made an unexpected comeback, winning the Men’s Open 350 Tournament in St. Thomas, after a car accident sidelined him last year.

Doctors told Petrolia’s Matt Mueller he might not play tennis again after being severely injured in a car accident. But, he wasn’t having that.

Sunday, the Western University student made his comeback to tennis after a year, winning the Ontario Tennis Association sanctioned Men’s Open 350 Tournament in St. Thomas.

“It was a grind, but I loved it,” Mueller tells The Independent.

Mueller’s talent for tennis came to the fore when he was in high school. He won regularly and had big goals, including building an indoor tennis facility that could double as a school for gifted athletes which he floated to Petrolia council.

After graduating from LCCVI, Mueller was recruited to join Western’s Tennis team. The pandemic ground university sports to a halt as he started school, but in 2021, Mueller helped the team to both gold at provincials and bronze at the nationals in 2021 and 2022..

Then in August 2022 at that national tournament, Mueller hit a road block; he tore his UCL playing tennis. Not long after, the car he was driving was hit by a transport. He suffered serious back, hip, leg and head injuries and was sidelined for six or seven months, he says.

“I’m lucky to be here,” Mueller admits.

That was a “really rough winter” he says. He was going to class and going home, a big change for a guy who spent hours not just on the tennis court but playing any sport he could in high school.

“I had a lot of time to think and get perspective on life…It was a big life adjustment,” Mueller admitted adding it was tough mentally particularly when doctors voiced concerns about his ability to play the sport he loved.

“I was told I was not going to be able to play sports again. That was tough.
“I wasn’t really going to take that.”

Mueller spent time on his studies, started a small business and went to every practice of Western’s tennis team as his body healed.

“I wanted to be there for the team but it sucked for me because I really wanted to be out there.”

Eventually, he was back on the court and last weekend, he entered his first tournament in St. Thomas.

His family, friends from university and his coach at Western were all there to cheer him on.

The moral support was appreciated because for the first time in his tennis career, he had a bad case of nerves before he took to the court.

Mueller was unseeded. Friday, he beat Joaquin Karl Libre Palo 6-1, 6-3. Saturday he defeated the third seed of the tourney – his university teammate who he plays almost daily – Shane Bulitka – 6-0, 6-3.

Sunday, Mueller had three matches including a hard fought semi final against the tournament’s number one seed, Alessandro Sant’ Angelo. Mueller defeated him 7-5, 6-2 in a tough match in the muggy weather. It was so hot, Mueller changed shirts eight times.

The final was a bit anti-climatic with number two seed Adrian Catahan falling victim to cramps in the first set, giving Mueller a 4-1 victory.

Mueller was a bit surprised by the comeback win.

“I shouldn’t say this but I definitely was not expecting to win the tournament. I just did my best and I played pretty well in the first game…I was happy with my play,” he said adding he was dealing with a lot of emotions.

“It was really, really weird,” Mueller says of the weekend tournament. “I had so many different emotions but I’m just happy to be out playing again.”

With the win, Mueller is now seeded 75th in Canada. His next big challenge is the national championships with Western in August in Montreal. And it is likely to be a challenge.

Mueller is still dealing with pain from the accident which sidelined him. He had an MRI Tuesday to try to determine why his back and hips are still giving him problems.

But the pain won’t likely stop him from heading to Montreal for his first university play in over a year particularly after getting the win this weekend. “It was so nice to be back playing again…I definitely feel prepared for nationals after this.”