Photograph by Kyle Gustafson
Michael Chang is often overlooked when examining the “greatest generation” of US tennis—and rightly so when you compare his career against those of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, and Jim Courier, his fellow competitors at Friday’s HSBC Champions tennis event at the Verizon Center. Chang, of course, is best known for his lone Grand Slam win over Ivan Lendl in the 1989 French Open final. Sampras, Agassi, and Courier have a combined 26 Grand Slam titles among them, but it was Chang that provided the fireworks on Friday, winning the event by beating Jim Courier 8-3 in the eight-game, pro-set final.
Chang faced off against Pete Sampras in the first semi-final match and came out firing with three aces in his first service game. Sampras, playing to the crowd, was seemingly stunned by Chang’s display of power. “Now you know how it feels, “ Chang remarked, drawing laughs from the crowd. Sampras, silky smooth as ever, seemed a step slow and never really found his groove during his time on the court. He was content to rely on his slice backhand all night and never really displayed any of the power game he was known for. His serve was off in a big way and Chang surprisingly dispatched him with relative ease 6-4.
Old rivals Courier and Agassi faced off in the second match, trading barbs and groundstrokes before Courier ultimately prevailed 7-4 in the tiebreaker. This match provided most of the night’s entertainment, with both men playing to the crowd. Agassi tortured the ballboys all match long, making them run after balls all over the court to the crowd’s amusement. Courier also did his part. After one brutal Agassi service return, he handed his racket to the ball girl standing behind him and told her to go out and play the next point. When she had problems getting her serve over the net, Courier held it down so her serves would fall in play and she could trade groundstrokes with Agassi. After taking his racket back, Courier spent most of the match running down Agassi’s powerful groundstrokes, but Courier, in his own unorthodox way, did enough to stay in the points until Agassi made an error. Such was the case when Agassi missed an absolute sitter at 4-5 in the tie breaker. His forehand went wide, Courier won the next point and a very winnable match slipped away.
In the final, Chang again had little problems with Courier, breaking him early and often and cruising to an easy win. Chang definitely came to play Friday night, everyone else . . . not so much. “There was some really great tennis being played out there tonight,” said Chang after the final. “Jim was as tough as ever, but I was able to catch some breaks at the right time and win this one.”