Sun, Jul 27, 2003 - Page 18 News List

Chang and tennis, a match made in heaven

The American-born Chinese tennis player tells his story and thanks God for his blessings

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Something for God, he thinks. Impressing the young with his extraordinary tennis prowess and celebrity, you imagine, and at the same time suggesting they come along with him to the church to pray. Possibly, he speculates, in China.

As he comes over in this unassuming book, Michael Chang is innocence personified. He wasn't a high achiever at school, and he accepts life and the world in ways that his smarter contemporaries might bridle at.

Even money doesn't appear to bother him much, though that his winner's check for US$291,752 in Paris in 1989 more than doubled his career earnings isn't surprising for a 17 year-old. He just thanks God for all his blessings in his prayers every night, after he's prayed for his Mom and his family. He never asks God to let him win, though. God has his plans, knows what's best for him and for the world, and Michael doesn't presume to ask him to change them. Michael Chang is a distinctly American phenomenon.

D.H. Lawrence, writing in Studies in Classic American Literature considered America a place of innocence, but an innocence the world needed to renew itself. Lawrence himself moved to New Mexico for just that input, just that inspiration. Europe was over-sophisticated and tired, he thought. New things wouldn't come from there. And Bible-reading Christianity is part of that American innocence. In France religious belief has long been associated with ultra-right wing politics. After cheering him following his victory over Lendl, his French fans turned to jeering when he attributed his victory to Jesus.

In the last analysis, Chang reminds us that the usual stereotypes don't account for all people. The teenager who lobbed an underarm serve to Lendl at a crucial juncture, so unnerving him that he went on to lose the point, had no smart plan. "I never thought twice about it," he writes. "I just did it."

Life, then, is a mystery -- or, if you prefer, a miracle. Michael Chang has an inner steadfastness, both as a tennis-player and as a man, that other people's incomprehension, and even hostility, can't even begin to shake.

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