Sat, May 24, 2003 - Page 19 News List

Chang set to relive memories in Paris

AP , PARIS

Michael Chang draws the name of a tennis player yesterday prior to the 102nd edition of the French Open.

PHOTO: AFP

Michael Chang toured the world with his racket for the better part of two decades, winning big matches in front of big crowds.

The successes and spectators are scarcer this season, his last: About 100 people saw Chang lose at a minor league event in Forest Hills, New York, this month.

Ah, but he'll always have Paris. Chang won the 1989 French Open at 17, still the record for youngest male champion at a Grand Slam tournament, and along the way he beat Ivan Lendl in one of the greatest comebacks in tennis history.

Now 31, Chang will play on Roland Garros' red clay for the last time.

"It's always a good feeling to be back there, playing on the same courts, rekindling memories of those good shots and those tough matches," he said. "You always want to do well. Particularly the last time, it would be nice to win a few matches."

Among the men, Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt is seeded No. 1, with eight-time Grand Slam titlist Andre Agassi second, and defending champ Albert Costa ninth.

Chang, of course, isn't seeded at all. Playing a limited schedule, he's won just one ATP Tour match all year, is ranked 142nd, and he needed a wild-card invitation to get into his 15th straight French Open.

How long has Chang been around? His first trip to the French Open ended with a third-round loss to John McEnroe.

Chang's breakthrough came a year later, when he became the first American to win at Roland Garros since Tony Trabert in 1955. In doing so, he collected the first major title for what would become a star-studded generation of US men: Chang, Agassi, Pete Sampras and Jim Courier.

Alas, it was also Chang's last major title (he lost three other Grand Slam finals).

What a triumph it was, though. He beat Sampras in the second round and Stefan Edberg in the final, and what always will stand out is the fourth-round win over Lendl.

It wasn't just that a kid knocked off the three-time French Open champion and the world's No. 1-ranked player. It was how Chang did it, rallying from a two-set deficit while battling dehydration and leg cramps so painful he didn't sit during changeovers.

Chang did whatever it took to paint his 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 masterpiece.

In the fifth set, he caught Lendl napping and tapped a serve underhanded. Lendl returned the ball, came to the net, then missed a volley.

On match point, Chang moved up to receive serve at the edge of the service line. Lendl double-faulted.

"He showed a lot of courage," Lendl said then; he rarely speaks to reporters nowadays and couldn't be reached for comment.

The gumption Chang displayed were emblematic of a 1.76m, 72kg guy who couldn't rely on pure power. He made a career out of tracking down opponents' shots, winning 34 titles and reaching No. 2 in the rankings (he was one win from rising to No. 1 but lost to Sampras in the 1996 US Open final).

TV analyst Mary Carillo was announcing at Roland Garros on June 5, 1989.

"I think Chang is still tired from that match. That's why he hasn't won a major since," Carillo said with a laugh. "It was a remarkable effort."

Plenty of people thought so. Andy Roddick, seeded sixth at this French Open, says he was inspired by watching that tennis marathon at age 6. Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand, seeded 10th, called Chang "my hero when I was young."

"In all of sports, he's as great a competitor as you'll ever see," Agassi said after beating Chang at Key Biscayne, Florida, in March. "He has never once not shown up with everything he's had."

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