Tuesday, July 09, 2002

For Chang, time to shine is now

He's struggled in recent years

By Michael Perry, mperry@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Michael Chang won the Tennis Masters Series event in Cincinnati twice and played in four straight finals from 1993-96. He has won more matches in the tournament (39) than any active player.

        But Monday, when the field was announced for the 2002 Western & Southern Financial Group Masters, Chang needed a wild-card entry from the tournament because his ranking this year is so poor (No. 101) he didn't qualify for the elite event.

    Michael Chang is scheduled to sign his recently released autobiography “Holding Serve, Persevering On and Off the Court” at 1 p.m. on Aug. 3 at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood.

    “It's not really a total autobiography,” Chang said. “It's more or less a reflection of my upbringing and a lot of my Christian faith and just the ups and downs of tennis. It's just giving people a better understanding of who I am and what I'm about other than what you see on the tennis court and what you read in the newspapers.”

        The tournament can award four wild cards.

        “Chang was kind of a no-brainer,” tournament director Bruce Flory said. “We did it out of what he's done, respect for him and (his) popularity — and he's still making a go of it.”

        Said Chang: “I really don't like asking for wild cards. . . . It is humbling, and greater things sometimes happen when you are humbled.”

        The 30-year-old New Jersey native has endured a rough couple of years.

        He finished 2001 with a 16-21 record, failing to make the finals of any tournament. It was the first time he finished ranked outside the top 50 since 1987 — when he was 15 years old.

        Chang is just 2-12 this year and No. 116 in the ATP Tour Champions Race. He didn't win an ATP Tour match until April.

        “I thought that last year was bad,” Chang said. “I worked very hard over the offseason, and I never would've envisioned that this year would be worse.

        “The funny thing now is, I feel like something's changing (for the good). I can feel it in my game, and I can feel it in my attitude. I get this feeling, even though I don't have any results to show for it.”

        He has been encouraged by his title in a lower-level Challenger event in Calabasas, Calif., in April. He lost to top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt, the Wimbledon champion, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) in Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, last month and to Sjeng Schalken in the second round of Wimbledon in four sets.

        “Even though I lost those, I came away like I achieved something, like I was headed in the right direction,” Chang said. “I don't know if I'm going to do any better during the hardcourt season, but at least I'm going into the summer with an optimistic attitude.”

        Chang won the French Open at age 17 in 1989 and was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world (1996). He has won seven Tennis Masters Series titles, but none since 1997.

        During Wimbledon, TNT analyst Jim Courier said Chang has lost confidence, and added, “. . . Frankly, the Tour has just passed him by. Guys today are bigger, stronger and deeper, and his game hasn't really changed much in the last five, six years.”

        The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Chang agrees that his confidence has wavered just because of a lack of success. As for opponents being bigger and stronger, “that's always been the case anyway.”

        “I don't know what the future holds,” he said. “I don't know if I'm going to win another match on Tour. But as long as that hunger and that desire remain, I'm going to keep plugging away. I know I'm capable of playing some great tennis.

        “I don't need to be out there playing for money or more titles. God's blessed me with much more than I ever dreamed of accomplishing. From here on out, it's really just icing on the cake. I really don't have a set timetable (for retirement). I feel like I'm going to play for another year or two. But I just want to see how things go. When I walk away from the Tour, I want to be able to say I gave 100 percent.”


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