Q&A: Chang holds serve with readers' questions
In 1989, Michael Chang became the first American since 1955 to win the French Open. Here, he plays a shot during the 1997 event before retiring from professional tennis in 2003.
Michael Chang, the 1989 French Open Singles Champion, will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I., on Saturday, July 12, 2008. Joining Chang in the induction Class of 2008 are tennis contributors Mark McCormack and Eugene Scott.
As this year's French Open gets ready to kick off in Paris, Chang checked in with USA TODAY to answer some readers' questions. Here's what he had to say:
Q: Who would you take on in a French Open Final between Borg and Nadal? Do you think Nadal will win it again this year?
A: Personally, I would have loved to play Borg in the final of any Grand Slam event since he was someone I watched growing up. It's a shame that he retired so early too because he was one of the few players I never had a chance to compete against. I think it's always a dream to play against those you looked up to not to mention one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
I think if Nadal stays fresh and healthy, he will be extremely difficult to beat. There are a few others who also have a chance, like Federer but I really believe, the balls, weather, toughness of the draws, and court conditions will need to play a factor in order for that to happen. It's hard to bet against Nadal especially on clay. Without a doubt, the tennis world knows Rafael has been the man to beat on the dirt for the past few years now and he won't relinquish that title willingly.
Q: What was your longest match at Roland Garros and how long did it last? Do you have to prepare differently from Wimbledon, US Open because of the surface? For instance types of shoes, racquet tension?
A: My longest match at the French Open had to have been against Ivan Lendl in the round of 16 in 1989. We battled for 4 hours and 39 minutes over 5 very grueling sets.
Because of the various surfaces, a player definitely needs to prepare differently going into each grand slam. Those preparations are not just physical either. Sometimes it's mental like when you know there will be lots of distractions at the US Open. Often times those changes are equipment related such as different soled Reebok shoes or varying string tensions based on changing weather conditions. Different strategies are certainly applicable here as well. I honestly don't think the average club player or even young tour player knows what kinds of things need to be taken into consideration when trying to prepare as best as one can for these bigs tournaments. It's really a learning curve unless you have someone who's been there before and already knows what needs to be taken care of beforehand.
Q: Has the tennis ball changed much in the past 20 or 30 years?
A: Believe it or not, tennis balls vary quite a bit! Some bounce higher, some are faster, some are slower, some have more felt, etc. You would be surprised at how different they can be in various parts of the world and they can be adjusted by a manufacturer to suit a particular tournament or region. Just because it says Penn or Wilson, doesn't mean it plays exactly the same. If you want to talk about what has really changed tennis in the past 20 to 30 years, you would be much more inclined to talk about rackets and string rather than tennis balls. But I'll save that for another time!
Q: How much of your success can be attributed to the fact that the "big servers" you faced were somewhat neutralized on the slower clay surfaces?
A: On clay, without a doubt, the big serve is not nearly as effective and that can be said for all power players even in regards to hard hitting baseliners. They say that clay is a great equalizer for tennis since one really has to carefully construct and plan out particular shots since what would be a winner on grass or hard court, would certainly under most conditions not be on clay. Often times, 3, 4 or 5 similar shots need to be hit in order for a point to be won.
One has to also remember though that just because you're a baseliner, doesn't mean you can automatically play on the surface. A big key is the ability to move and 'glide' around the court, knowing when to slide and when not to. Certainly being a great mover and getting to a lot of balls helps but you still need to play a lot of 'chess' out there, balancing when to play defensive tennis and when you need to be aggressive and attack.
Q: What exactly makes the French Open the great equalizer of the 4 Grand Slams? Over the years we have seen this title elude some of the sport's greatest players (McEnroe, Sampras, Edberg, Becker, Federer to name a few). Please provide us with a champion's perspective on what makes it so difficult to conquer the red clay at Roland Garros
A: The French Open is without question the most grueling grand slam of the four. It's not uncommon for matches to last over 4 hours. With varying conditions, slower courts, longer matches and higher bouncing balls, it creates a different type of tennis that many of the greatest players have yet to figure out. Most try to just take their regular fast court style of tennis and play with a little more patience. The problem is that what would normally be a winner on any other surface, comes back at you with a kind of 'is that the best shot you can hit' attitude. And it's only natural for the best players to try and go for more rather than have a mentality of hitting 3, 4, 5 or even 10 shots just to win one point. The best clay courters have this mentality and go into each match with a great deal of patience, working the ball and working the ball until you get the right opening or until your opponent is so far off the court they can't recover. Granted, matches can be won with a go for broke type of style and game but over 2 weeks and having to win 7 tough matches each being 3 out of 5 sets is a tall order for pure attacking players to accomplish. In order for them to break through, they need just the right amount of fire power coupled with patience and a great strategy which includes just as much defensive play as offensive play. And to be honest, it's tough for attacking power players to do that. They only really know how to be aggressive.
The smart players know that one of the best ways to beat the aggressive, attacking players is to either put them on the defensive somehow so they can't play their best game or invite them to play on clay!
Q: I've always been a big fan of yours — I just want to know if you can recommend a way to keep your legs going even if you're over 50.
A: I think one of the best ways to keep your legs strong is to do some exercises in the pool. Water takes the pounding off of your body compared to other exercises like running even walking but it gives you resistance no matter which direction you move. And it's this gentle resistance that will strengthen and tone all of your muscles, especially your legs. Even just walking around in a pool is good and I'm sure you'll find your legs gaining more strength while maintaining its flexibility at the same time.