Happy 40th birthday, Michael Chang
Michael Chang became the youngest man to win a Grand Slam title when he won Roland Garros at age 17 in 1989. (Pierre Gleizes/AP)
Michael Chang made a career out of setting almost every "youngest ever" stat in the books. On Wednesday he turned 40 years old, which is making the rest of us feel like "the oldest ever."
The youngest and oft-overlooked fourth member of that Golden Boys era of American men's tennis (alongside Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier), Chang was initially its breakout star. At 15 years old he became the youngest player to win a main draw match at the U.S. Open and the youngest player to reach the semifinals of a Tour-level event. All these records were nothing compared to what he was to accomplish less than two years later. In 1989 he became the youngest man to win a Grand Slam title, beating Stefan Edberg in the Roland Garros final to win his first and only major title.
Ask most people about that final and you might get some blank stares. But ask people about his fourth-round comeback when down two sets to love against Ivan Lendl and you're bound to get an emotional reaction. Chang battled cramps and rattled the unrattleable Czech with underhand serves, moonballs and precarious court positioning. It was a career-defining win for Chang and one of the most memorable matches in tennis history.
His French Open title was the first for an American man at Roland Garros since Tony Trabert in 1955 and it propelled him into the top five three months later. He would go on to make two more Slam finals (the Australian Open and U.S. Open in 1996), reach a career-high rank of No. 2, and win 34 career titles before retiring in 2003. Not bad for a guy who was outsized and outgunned during his 15-year career.
Here we look back to some of the best of Michael Chang.
1. David slays Goliath: Or at least he makes Goliath's brain melt. Down two sets and a break in the third set to world No. 1 Ivan Lendl in the fourth round of the 1989 French Open, Chang decided his best chance was to get the robotic Czech to start over-thinking. Lendl had beaten Chang two years earlier and he made the mistake of telling the 16-year-old exactly how he did it:
"You've got nothing that can hurt me," Lendl told him. "You've got no serve; your second serve is not very strong. So, pretty much, whenever I play you, I can do whatever I want, however I want, and I'm going to beat you pretty comfortably like I did today."
Chang clearly got the message. But after sneaking out the third and fourth sets, Chang's legs were failing him. He realized even more so that he couldn't beat Lendl with forehands and backhands, so he started using the one part of his body that wasn't cramping that day: his brain. Stretching his legs between points, Chang still managed to scramble like a rabbit during play, knocking up moonballs, goading Lendl into errors, while also going for all-out winners to shorten points. Lendl couldn't do 'whatever he wanted, however he wanted' because he didn't know what to expect off Chang's racket at any given moment.
The underhand serve at 4-3, 15-30 in the fifth set was probably the most memorable shot of the match, but seeing Chang practically stand at the service line to return Lendl's serve on match point was the most "what the hell!" moment of the match. Lendl probably would agree. He was so discombobulated he double faulted on match point. Game, set, match, Chang, 4–6, 4–6, 6–3, 6–3, 6–3 in four hours and 39 minutes.
Here's a video of both the underhand serve and match point. If he loses his serve, Lendl has two break points to get back on serve in the fifth set. Gutsy call.
2. Ending the drought: Chang goes on to beat Edberg in the French Open final, 6–1, 3–6, 4–6, 6–4, 6–2 in three hours and 41 minutes.
3. The Scrambler: Even today, the speed and agility is remarkable.
4. In his own words: Chang recalls in 1989 run to the French Open title, which coincided with the student protests in Tiananmen Square.
5. Pump like Mike: Chang's commercial for Reebok Pumps, possibly one of the greatest shoe marketing gimmicks of all time.
***** What are your favorite Chang moments? Sound off in the comments to let us know.