Friday, August 13, 1999

Can 'Cinderella' Chang slip past Rafter?




BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

chang
Michael Chang.
(AP photos)
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        MASON — Michael Chang has won three straight matches for only the second time this season on the ATP Tour, and this stretch has clearly been against some tough competition.

        Chang advanced to the quarterfinals of the Great American Insurance ATP Championship with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Cedric Pioline on Thursday, and has now beaten the Nos. 34- (Marat Safin), 8- (Alex Corretja) and 26-ranked players in the world.

        His reward: A date tonight with No. 4 Patrick Rafter.

THE SKINNY
  • Chang vs. Rafter, 7 p.m.
  • Series: Chang leads 6-3.
  • Last meeting: Chang won 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 in September 1997 Davis Cup semifinal.
  • Fun fact: When they last played, Chang was ranked No. 2 in the world and Rafter No. 3.
        “I haven't felt like this in a while,” Chang said.

        He is the Cinderella story of the event despite his history here.

        The two-time ATP champion (1993, '94) is in the quarterfinals for the 10th time in his 12 appearances in Cincinnati and has now won seven of his last nine matches this summer.

        Chang's ranking has slipped to 58, but he has been playing his best tennis of the year this week. That isn't surprising. His 38 victories in Cincinnati are the most among active players and third-most all-time here.

        He disposed of Pioline in 83 minutes.

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Patrick Rafter
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        “Actually, I didn't feel like it went that smoothly,” Chang said. “Cedric was so hot and cold today. I didn't really know what to expect from point to point. It was tough to figure out what was actually going to happen.

        “I still feel like I needed to be aggressive.”

        Rafter also had little trouble with his third-round match, bouncing 15th-seeded Nicolas Lapentti 6-2, 6-3.

        The defending ATP champion has gone 28-6 since May after starting the year 7-8.

        “I served really well,” Rafter said. “I played one of my best matches I played all summer. Now let's see if I can put two together.”

        It isn't likely to be as easy.

        Chang and Rafter have not played each other since 1997, but that year they met five times, with Chang winning three.

        Even though they haven't met on the court, they've been keeping tabs on each other.

        “Michael's playing better than he's played for nearly a year now,” Rafter said. “That's good for Michael. I really don't know what to expect from him.”

        Said Chang: “We always have some pretty tough matches. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be important for me to play solid all-around.

        “The first time I played him (1994), I lost to him. Definitely over the years, he's improved quite a bit. It's been a while. So for this period of time where he's had this great stretch of runs, reaching No. 1, I haven't really gotten a taste of (si) that (ei) Pat Rafter. I've been watching him quite a bit obviously. Everybody has. I know his game pretty well.”

        Chang consistently portrays an aura of calm. He said he gets angry with his father or on the golf course. That's about it.

        He threw his club once after missing a putt on a par-3.

        He yells when he's upset. But that's something nobody is likely to see often.

        “Maybe I'm a little bit calmer on the outside than inside,” he said. “I really don't lose my temper that often. I'm a person that internalizes everything. If something really bothers me, I deal with it inside first.”

        Not much to deal with this week. So far, so good.

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