for fans of Michael Chang...C/P
Michael Chang still aims for a major
By Sandra Harwitt
At 30-years-old, Michael Chang might be an optimist, but he's also a realist.
So when he speaks of ending his career, whenever that might be although he understands it will be sooner than later, he hopes against hope it will be with a second Grand Slam trophy. Nevertheless, he acknowledges that sensational scenario would be highly unlikely.
Chang, however, can't deny that he would love to join fellow players Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic in the ability to resurrect a failing ranking with Grand Slam glory. For Sampras, the resurrection came with a record 14th Grand Slam title at the US Open last month; for Agassi it was from the depths of despair at No. 141 in the world to return to the top of the charts and to add four Grand Slam titles to the three he already owned; and for Ivanisevic it was winning Wimbledon, as a wildcard recipient, for the first time after three previous final appearances.
"To be totally honest with you I don't know that something like that will happen," said Chang, who won his lone Grand Slam trophy as a 17-year-old at the French Open. "I am hopeful. I believe in miracles and it's going to take one, definitely, in order for me to accomplish something like that, something that Pete and Andre and Goran have done over the past few years. That's just really tremendous and to be honest with you, as a tennis player and as someone who has grown up playing with them, you feel great about seeing those kind of things accomplished, particularly guys who are your peers, guys you grew up playing with and just hats off (to them).
"So, hopefully, I would hope that maybe something like that would happen in the twilight of my career. I still have the desire to go out and to play hard, practice hard, and definitely want to go out there and try to win."
Chang, who is currently ranked No. 128 and is about to spend the next couple of weeks playing two USTA Challenger events in Burbank, Ca. and San Antonio in an attempt to raise his ranking high enough to be straight into the Australian Open main draw in January, is a religious and spiritual kind of guy. Therefore, he believes that what will take place is in the hands of a higher being and whatever happens is okay with him.
"If God grants me the opportunity to win another Grand Slam title, then hopefully it will happen," Chang said in a phone press conference call from his home in Washington State. "But if not, I still will be able to look back at my career and say that I was blessed much more so than I have deserved, much more so than I have imagined, and will be content with that."
Chang, who has won 34 career titles and ranked as high as No. 2 in the mid-1990s, also reached the final of three other Grand Slam finals. At the 1995 French Open final, he fell to Austrian Thomas Muster, lost to Boris Becker in the 1996 Australian Open championship match, and then surrendered to Pete Sampras in the 1996 US Open final. Had he beaten Sampras, he would have moved to No. 1.
While the clay of Roland Garros is the only Grand Slam surface he conquered, this Southern California native is quick to point out that he always thought his best chances for success would be at either the Australian or US Opens.
BEST SHOT IS IN MELBOURNE OR NEW YORK
"It's funny, I have always been asked which is the one that would be the easiest to win," said Chang, who recently penned his tennis memoirs in "Holding Serve: Persevering On and Off the Court." "None of them are easy to win, but which suits my style the best and I would always say either the Australian or the US Open because I really grew up playing on hard courts. It's what I am most familiar with. Strangely enough, Grand Slam-wise I have had the most success at the French."
Despite Chang's dreams of bringing home another major title, he seems capable of setting his sights a bit below that weighty goal. Having dealt with a number of injuries and a plunging ranking in recent years, just hoisting a trophy at a tour level event would be a viewed as a worthy accomplishment.
"Obviously, I think it would be great to win another tournament," said Chang, whose last ATP level trophy came at the '00 LA summer event. "It's been a couple of years since I have won a tournament. I know that when I did win the last one in LA, it was pretty emotional because I realized all the things that I had been though over the past few years, and the struggles and I knew that it was tough. I think I have come to appreciate that title maybe a little more so than some of the other ones because of the struggle. So, obviously, it would be great to be able to break through and win another title. It would be nice to be able to finish the year and say, well, that was a great year. It would be nice to finish on that note."
TOO MUCH MUSCLE
Interestingly, when Chang was practically ruling the world in 1996 with his No. 2 --"Avis, We Try Harder" ranking -- he was of the notion that doing some heavy duty training off the court would catapult him into the top position. As he was to soon find out, bulking up did not work wonders for a counterpuncher who relied on speed and agility, not to mention brainpower, to outwit opponents.
"During the off-season in 1997, after I was very close to becoming the No. 1, I decided to try to really try to work on getting stronger," he said. "I was hoping that that would really make a difference between being No. 2 in the world and being No. 1. What I did was over a six-week period -- I worked very, very hard with physical conditioning, physical strength; probably put on about, gosh, about eight or 10 pounds. And definitely got stronger; there was no question about it. The thing that became a little bit of a hindrance for me was that I think when I became that much stronger what I didn't realize, and what I maybe took for granted, was that it actually ended up taking a way a little bit of speed. Not only speed, but agility and flexibility and that might have been the reason why I started having some … got hurt the following year."
Whenever Chang decides it's time to quit, he will take with him the knowledge that along with Sampras, Agassi and Jim Courier, with the addition of Todd Martin and MaliVai Washington, he was part of a great generation of American tennis stars.
"I think that what made it special was that this particular generation, we have known each other for so long," Chang said. "You look back and I have known Pete since he was eight years old when we first played, … Andre stayed at my house when we played a junior event in San Diego. … We have so much history and I think because of that, for us to all be on tour and be as successful as we have been, I think that's what made it special."
And one day in the future, when his playing days are behind him, Chang hopes to be alongside of Sampras and Agassi as an inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.
"It would be a great honor to be able to make it into the Hall of Fame," Chang said. "I think that to be able to be recognized like that for your accomplishments is something that's very, very special. I feel like I have been blessed in so many ways with the sport of tennis."