ASIAN AMERICAN ISSUES
Michael Chang: Time to Retire from Tennis?
hirteen years ago Michael Chang was lionized as the youngest man ever to win the French Open and the first American male to win in 36 years. This year he quietly exited Roland Garros after blowing a two-set-to-love lead in a first-round match with an obscure Frenchman ranked 224th.
Wednesday, Apr 2, 2008, 12:09:48 AM)
Chang himself has ceased being a marquee name except in cities like Hong Kong, Beijing and Taipei. His ATP ranking has slipped to 116th from 73rd at the end of 2001. For the first five months of 2002 his prize money totaled a paltry $53,835 compared with $483,000 in 2000, $1.2 million in 1997 and a high of $2 million in 1995. Michael Chang now spends half his time competing in Challenger series tournaments offering piddling purses. His most recent win was $7,200 at an April tournament in Calabasas -- and that was one of his biggest wins of the year. Another Challenger event in Tarzana a week later netted him $520.
Not that Chang needs the prize money to keep himself in tennis balls. His winnings since turning pro at the age of 15 total $18.9 million. And that's not counting an estimated $50 million in endorsements.
It isn't money that keeps Michael Chang playing tennis. It is God. Or rather, the deep conviction that he has been blessed with his once-unparalleled quickness and killer groundstrokes so that they can be applied to the service of Jesus. A world-class Jesus freak, Michael Chang is animated by the missionary zeal of spreading the gospel to tennis fans worldwide.
"I used to put too much emphasis on winning and losing, but my perspective changed when I became a Christian," he once told a fan. "It is much easier now to go out and perform because I no longer feel that same pressure -- God has taken it away. He has given me a great sense of peace. I've also been very blessed in my life because I have my mom, dad, sister-in-law Diana, and brother Carl (my coach) supporting and praying for me."
God has not seen fit to grant Chang the level of tennis greatness attained by contemporaries Pete Sampras (six months older) and Andre Agassi (22 months older). Michael Chang has won 34 career titles but his only Grand Slam title came when he won the 1989 French Open at the sensational age of 17 years and 3 months. By contrast his lifelong tennis nemesis Pete Sampras owns 63 titles, 13 of which are Grand Slams. Andre Agassi counts 7 Grand Slams among his 52 singles titles.
God might also be resented for denying Michael Chang, 30, the longevity granted to erstwhile rivals. Like Chang, Sampras was knocked out of the 2002 French Open in the first round but has played well enough in recent months to hold number 23 in ATP rankings. Agassi, now 32, is enjoying a remarkable comeback after a long, humiliating slump, winning the 1999 French and U.S. Opens and the 2000 and 2001 Australian Open, in addition to reaching the Wimbledon finals or semis three years running.
That's the kind of resurgence boldly predicted in 2000 for Michael by his father Joe Chang, the man who was Michael's first coach. The son failed the father's prophecy. He has not reached even a Grand Slam semi since losing to Patrick Rafter in straight sets at the 97 U.S. Open. The closest Chang came to a second Grand Slam title was losing the 96 U.S. Open final to Sampras, and losing the 1995 French Open final to Thomas Muster -- both in straight sets.
In fairness let's recall the golden years when Michael Chang exceeded every expectation placed on his young head.
He was born on February 22, 1972 in Hoboken, New Jersey. It was his brother Carl, three years his elder, who had been earmarked for tennis glory by papa Joe, a research chemist. But by age eight the tagalong kid brother had shown enough promise to be entered in local tournaments. As an eighth grader at Oak Crest Junior High, the 12-year-old Chang took a high school algebra course just so he could qualify for the San Diego high school championships. He won it by beating Carl in the finals. Hailed a prodigy of the SoCal junior circuit, Chang came up time and again against another prodigy from Rancho Palos Verdes named Pete Sampras -- and got the better of him, more times than not.
Michael had just begun his sophomore year at Valencia High when he made his mark on the international tennis scene. By beating Australian star Paul McNamee in the opening round of the 1987 U.S. Open, he became the youngest man ever to win a match there. It was a remarkable feat. A sport full of tall power players had been set on its ear by a 5-9 boy weighing 139! Four months later Michael, not yet 16, dropped out of high school and his mother Betty dropped out of her career as a biochemist. The decision had been made to turn Michael's tennis career into a family business.
"Money was the biggest problem," Michael explained. For the two years preceding the decision to turn pro, his parents had depleted their savings to the tune of $40,000-50,000 a year on tournament traveling expenses and lessons from the likes of Australian Phil Dent and Argentinian Jose Higuera. "We're middle class people. It was getting out of hand." If Michael wanted to continue rising in the tennis world, turning pro was the only option.
Thus was born what the tennis press snidely dubbed "The Chang Gang". Joe was head coach and CEO. Betty was chauffeur, cheerleader and constant companion. Carl, a freshman at Cal and already an ace on its tennis squad, was recruited to serve as his kid brother's hitting partner, assistant coach, and ultimately, coach. At various times Joe Chang retained top pros to polish aspects of Michael's game, but caught flack for being his son's only real coach until giving up the job to Carl.
But who can question the Chang Gang's success? Between 1989 and 1997, the family business averaged well over a million a year in prize money, not to mention upwards of $8 million a year in endorsements. But by 1998 Michael Chang's career hit a ravine. His winnings totaled under a half million and he failed to get past the early rounds of any Grand Slam event. His only titles were minor events in Boston and Shanghai. The next year he failed to win even a minor. In 2000 he sparked a brief comeback hope by winning the Los Angeles open, but by year end he was written off as a has been.
His outings since haven't changed that perception, least of all his most recent ones. His 160-pound frame looks more powerful, perhaps, than in his salad days, but it also seems sluggish, tired.
Michael Chang's phenomenal success in attracting endorsements over the years has depended on his role as the tennis world's Asian standard-bearer. No one is appearing on the horizon to take over that role. Yet, many AA tennis fans find it even sadder to see their old hero repeatedly humiliated in early rounds of minor events.
Has the time come for Michael Chang to bow out of professional tennis? Or is there a realistic prospect of an Agassi-style comeback?
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WHAT YOU SAY
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I read the article by Scott Paschal from the Christian tennis association and I agree. Michael Chang has made his mark in tennis. He has made a mark for his religious beliefs as well. I looked at Scott Paschal's website and think both of these men have made their mark. I have never seen a Christian tennis association before and I am suprised someone has the courage to stand so firmly for his beliefs as Scott Paschal does with his Christian tennis academy and his Christian tennis association. Michael Chang will retire soon, but if he follows in his current path we will see him for many years to come. Thank you both Mr. Scott Paschal for for allowing God to direct you in developing your International Christian Tennis Association and your highly unique Christian tennis academy, and thank you Mr. Michael Chang for being such a great and shining Christian example for the Asian community.
Monday, April 14, 2003 at 18:23:27 (PDT)
Jeez, I was only 6 then, but I remember the look on Micheal Chang's face when he chased down several of those deadly drop shots by Ivan Lendl in the 1987 French Open. He was pure guts and glory, covering the entire length of his half of the court chasing the ball like a dude with his hair on fire. Lendl's expression was one of utter shock and disbelief - he totally got caught with his pants around his ankles when he under-estimated Chang.
I will always have enduring respect for Micheal Chang, even though admittedly I am not fond of bible-thumpers. He deserves at least a modicum of respect from every AA for paving the way for Asian American athletes. Besides, he's an alumnus of my highschool. =)
Yao, Srichaphan, Wang, Ichiro are awesome too, but have some damn respect for my man Micheal! Ain't nothin' wrong with showing a brother some love...
it's about RESPECT.
Wednesday, April 02, 2003 at 05:23:51 (PST)
We each have a gift. Michael's gift is the ability to share his faith in God through the sport of tennis.
It's impossible to say how many people Michael and Carl Chang have reached with the message of salvation through Jesus Christ. Yet, it safe to say they did their job well.
Is Michael retiring? Well, sort of. He might not be seen fighting for a victory on the tennis court as a professional. But, you can be sure Michael will continue to be a source of inspiraton and hope as he spreads the Word of Christ through his family's foundation.
My name is Scott Paschal, I founded the International Christian Tennis Association. You can reach us at www.ictatennis.net.
Sunday, February 02, 2003 at 20:34:13 (PST)
It is shamefull that you repeatedly undermined Michael's faith by measuring it against his "loss". Why is it hard to accept that a well known person have strong convictions about thier personal faith?
Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 12:19:49 (PST)
Why are we idolizing this guy still? I don't like him any more, especially when there's Ichiro, Nomo and now Yao Ming to root for. Besides, he's failed and let down the Asian community by never, ever, EVER taking a stand on a major Asian American issue during his more than decade long career! He could have done so much, but he squandered precious moments given to him by his mammoth stature, opting to talk more about his religion than anything else. Arrgh! That just makes me so angry! We don't need another bible thumping preacher, we got so many of those already. How many prominent Asians bringing important Asian issues to the forefront will we have? If you have the opportunities to do good and further worthy causes, it is your ethical and moral obligation to take it!
Saturday, December 14, 2002 at 04:11:36 (PST)
The next asian-tennis model is obviously Paradorn Srichaphan. Forget about Michael's comeback! It will never happen. As for Paradorn, he will be a Grandslam champion in a few years to come.
Friday, November 15, 2002 at 09:18:52 (PST)
Don't count Michael out. He's still my favorite tennis player/Christian. God will continue to bless him no matter what he does on the court. I hope he has an unparalleled come back and is ranked number one.
Thursday, October 17, 2002 at 14:18:11 (PDT)
I am also a fan of Michael Chang and always be. It is so inspiring seeing how he play how he chases every single ball. He inspired so many new Asian players like Paradorn Srichaphan and much more. It's really not up to us to decide whether he will continue or to quit!
Friday, October 11, 2002 at 21:46:42 (PDT)
Michael Chang: "World-class man of integrity." Michael is probably the best player ever to never be ranked #1. Game intelligence, one of the top 5 ever, along with Bjorg, Ashe, Lendl, and Sampras. Tenacity, matched only by Connors and maybe Martin or Mac.
On the downside? Yes. But, considering his general physical conditioning and the two attributes above, Chang could continue to be dangerous for a few more years. Connors at 39 yrs. old should ring a bell and Connors was never the conditioned athlete Chang was or is. Chang will have difficulty putting together a string of wins over top 10 players, but he has shown the possibility of beating them i.e. Haas and he took Hewitt to two tie-breakers earlier in the season. I wish him success and happiness. If a non-challenger tourney win comes his way it would just be iceing on a pretty good career. God Bless
Friday, October 11, 2002 at 02:37:19 (PDT)
Michael Chang seems to be a conservative Christian. I wonder if he is chaste, too. Even many non-Christian athletes are chaste (at least during when they're on tour). Does anyone know if Chang is chaste (or celibate)?
For the case that he's unmarried and chaste Chang will still have a chance to win a smaller tournament, I bet. No Grand Slam, of course. Married he would end up worse than Matsuoka.
Thursday, September 26, 2002 at 17:29:58 (PDT)
I am a fan and I will support Michael Chang whether he is winning or losing. It is sad that he has so far not been able to live up to his earlier promise of greater achievement. But he is not giving up and still trying out there. Do you think he doesn't feel it when he loses all the time? It must be very hard but still he is out there giving his best shot. It's up to Micheal when he wants to hang up his racket, not his fans, the media or anybody else.
Fan no matter what
Wednesday, September 11, 2002 at 19:59:23 (PDT)
Yeah I guess you're right but man I'd just love to see our idol hold a golden trophy once more. Only a miracle though could bring that image to life. I still watch his matches when ever I can because he's hardly ever on tv anymore. Hate to see him get bashed by a 200+ ranked opponent but I guess I still watch it because I'm still hoping for a miracle :) Whatever decision he makes, I think that one thing is true; he'll be one of the best players and one of the legends of tennis.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002 at 11:09:38 (PDT)
Michael step it up or step out of the way.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002 at 09:22:55 (PDT)
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