Wednesday, August 11, 1999

Chang, Martin, Courier battle injuries, time




BY NEIL SCHMIDT
The Cincinnati Enquirer

chang
Michael Chang.
(Gary Landers photos)
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        MASON — The sun came out, then the stars. Todd Martin, Michael Chang, Jim Courier. Great Americans in the Great American Insurance ATP.

        Fans cheered their countrymen to back-to-back-to-back wins in a Tuesday tripleheader, and for an afternoon, everyone felt younger. The trio of top 10 mainstays from the early 1990s flashed old form, then whispered afterward their hopes that this wasn't an aberration.

        “It's nice to see the Americans being able to come back and fight through some things,” Chang said. “I think that throughout our careers, we've always inspired each other to play better tennis.”

        They lately have shared hope through courageous charges. Each had injuries derail his career in the past two years. Each returned resolved.

courier
Jim Courier.
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        Martin, 29, has rebounded best, ranking No.7. Courier, who turns 29 Monday, is back up to 39th. Chang, 27, is 58th but riding a mini streak.

        While Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi grew up in their era and also have roosted in the top 10, Martin, Courier and Chang have more in common with each other than that super-duo.

        “Injuries hurt all three of us,” Chang said. “I think that in many ways, we've helped each other in various ways. If we didn't have each other, I don't think we would be able to accomplish nearly as many things as we have.”

        Chang's and Courier's victories Tuesday were upsets. Chang beat 34th-ranked Marat Safin 6-3, 6-4, while Courier hustled past No.30 Goran Ivanisevic 7-6 (7-1), 6-2. Martin, seeded ninth, had the toughest match, beating qualifier Ramon Delgado 6-4, 5-7, 6-2.

courier
Todd Martin.
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        Martin is the most consistent of the three. He rarely loses a first-round match, not having done so this year.

        “I haven't played too many really bad matches,” he said. “And if you think through it, you can play OK and win a lot. Hopefully one of these days I'll start clicking and put a number of good matches together in a row.”

        Martin reached a career-best ranking of No.5 in 1994, slumped to 81st two years ago, and rebounded into the top 10.

        “I feel I'm one of the better players in the world,” he said. “I'm a better player than I was in '94. I'm definitely more consistent.”

        Courier was the world's No.1 player in 1992. He fell out of the top 40 last year for the first time since 1989 — he was 69th in August — but revived his career with some inspired Davis Cup victories earlier this year.

        “This year, I've been doing a great job of keeping my interest, and that's the biggest guarantee for consistency,” he said.

        Can he return to the top 10?

        “There's 10 other guys there, and I don't think they are that much better than me. But they are doing it on a consistent basis. That's the trick, is to play well consistently.”

        Chang was ranked No.2 three years ago, and two years ago said he still hoped to reach No.1 someday. Now he's struggling through a .500 year (14-14).

        He won this event in 1993 and '94 and has the best career mark here of any active player (36-9), so he likes the surface. Recent hardcourt success has spelled a stretch of five victories in his last seven matches.

        “There have been times I've played a good match and felt like, OK, this is where it turns around,” he said. “Then the next time, I wasn't able to play the way I wanted to. Having injuries and struggling has been something new to me.”

        Chang insists he isn't considering retirement.

        “I'd like to get through this difficult period of time,” he said. “I've fought my way through a lot of tough situations, and if I allow this (slump) to get the best of me, and retire, I would walk away from the game with a lot of regret.”

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