IN THE WEEKS after 17-year-old Michael Chang became the youngest male to win a Grand Slam title, the 1989 French Open, he struggled to prepare for Wimbledon. Twenty-six years later Chang, 43, is still working on grass-court strategies and techniques—not to hone his own game but as the coach of the world's fifth-ranked player, Kei Nishikori of Japan.
This is an article from the July 6, 2015 issue
Though he sees himself in Nishikori's game, Chang is not recommending Nishikori employ the audacious underhand serve he used to defeat Ivan Lendl at Roland Garros in '89. Nishikori, like Chang, relies on speed and steadiness, and while Chang was a master of clay, he never solved grass. Over his career he was 38--15 at the French Open and 18--14 at Wimbledon. Chang is schooling Nishikori, 25, on overcoming adversity on the court, using Serena Williams as a model of how "he doesn't need to be 100% to win."
Chang travels to tournaments with his wife, Amber—who's expecting their third child in mid-July—and their daughters Lani, 4, and Maile, 2, about 25 weeks of the year. He still burns to win, but since retiring in 2003 he has gained perspective. Says Chang, "I'm grateful for the championships and titles, but I've also realized there are more important things."
"If you hit it properly, it's actually not a very easy serve to return, so it could be used to take the opponent by surprise. But etiquette-wise, I don't think it would go over so well."
+ On the underhand serve he used to beat then No. 1 Lendl at the French in '89
"You have to get used to the footing and the fact that you're not hearing the ball bounce as on clay or hard courts."
+ On training for the grass of Wimbledon
"Balls bounce higher, the court is slower and rallies are longer than they used to be."
+ On how grass courts have changed
"I never would've expected it, but it's a lot more kicked-back—it's fun and we get along quite well."
+ On coaching against old rivals such as Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg
"You must learn the hard way."
+ Advice for young players who haven't yet developed the patience and work ethic to succeed