Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Chang surprises No. 3 Haas




By Neil Schmidt nschmidt@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[photo] Michael Chang
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        MASON - Michael Chang made a living out of outlasting opponents. The patient baseliner is now etching his name in Cincinnati tennis history the same way.

        The 30-year-old New Jersey native, in his Open Era-record 15th appearance here, is the active leader in the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters with 40 victories.

        The latest was a big one, as Chang upset the world's No. 3 player, Tommy Haas, 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday.

        For Chang, a former No. 2-ranked player who has sunk to No. 111, it was a reprise of his prime.

        “This is some of the best tennis I have played in a long, long time,” Chang said. “I am constantly trying to remind myself each day is a new day ... a new opportunity to improve, to better yourself.

        “I am on a winning streak now. It's only one, but it's a winning streak.”

[photo] Tommy Haas
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        Chang will meet 52nd-ranked Spaniard Fernando Vicente today in the second round. Chang beat Vicente last year in Rome 6-4, 7-5 in their only prior meeting.

        The 5-foot-9, 160-pound Chang stood just 2-13 in 2002 prior to Tuesday, and his ranking - hitting its lowest point at No. 112 last week - is its worst since May 1988, when he was 16 years old.

        Chang went 16-21 last year and hasn't reached a tournament final in two years. He has won just one tournament since 1998.

        During Wimbledon, TNT analyst Jim Courier said Chang had 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.”

        Said Chang: “I can't change all the things that have happened in the past. I can only learn from them, and from here on out, try to do things that have gotten me to this point, where I am able to play this kind of tennis.”

        If there's a place for a turnaround, it's in Cincinnati. A two-time champion and four-time finalist, Chang (40-12) moves out of a second-place tie with Jimmy Connors (39-10) on the career victory list here. Only Stefan Edberg (45-11) has won more.

        No question, Tuesday's victory stood out.

        “I probably couldn't even tell you the last top-10 player I have beaten,” Chang said.

        It was then-No. 9 Alex Corretja at Tennis Masters Series Stuttgart in October 2000. His last top-five victim was then-No. 1 Pete Sampras at TMS Rome in May 1998.

        “He is the type of guy that goes out there and gives 100 percent every single time,” Haas said. “I am a little bit surprised how much he was moving forward and hitting the ball.”

        Chang had been encouraged by some recent results, including a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4) loss to No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in June and a four-set loss to Sjeng Schalken in the second round at Wimbledon, and had tried to play aggressively. Tuesday's match was validation.

        “I realize that I am in the twilight of my career,” Chang said. “I feel like I really would like to give another good year and a half. ... (But) there's something inside me that hopes that something great will happen from this time until the time that I call it a day.”

       



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