An Interview With Former Grand Slam Champion Michael Chang
Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
Yesterday afternoon I had the pleasure of conducting a short phone interview with former Grand Slam champion Michael Chang. Chang, now 43, won the 1989 French Open title as a 17 year old and also reached three other Grand Slam finals (French Open 1995, Australian and US Open’s 1996). Chang earned 34 titles over the course of his career and reached as high as #2 in the ATP rankings.
Now at a new stage in his life in tennis, the now retired Chang is coaching Kei Nishikori, and was working with him when Kei reached the US Open final last year, as he continues to set the benchmark for Asian men’s tennis. The interview is below, and thank you to the BB&T Atlanta Open, and the Emirates Airlines US Open Series for helping to arrange the interview. Also thanks of course to Michael for taking the time out to conduct it, given his busy schedule.
Q: What are your thoughts on Kei Nishikori’s play this year and what are your expectations for his upcoming Wimbledon?
Chang: “Kei has been doing well, he’s off to a good start this year, what’s been encouraging is he hasn’t had any injuries compared to last year. Physically he’s doing much better, has two titles under his belt, and has been playing solid tennis. (At the French) I was hoping hoping he would do better than quarters, had a good opportunity against Tsonga but got off to a poor start in tough, windy conditions, clawed his way back, came up short. He’s on the grass now, getting ready for Wimbledon in Halle, I’m excited for him”
Q: You were one of the rare teenage Grand Slam Champions, do you think we’ll see another male teen win a slam in the near future?
Chang: “Teenage slam champion is always a possibility. It’s getting more and more difficult for teenage boys to break through and win at this level, the guys now are so physical, it’s just a lot harder these days, take a look at how many teens are in the top 100 when I was playing compared to now, big difference. (This) goes to show how physical tennis has gotten, how hard the guys are hitting with spin, and generating speeds on the racquet that they didn’t have before. (It’s) difficult for younger players to keep up and win, in a situation needing 7 matches and 3 out of 5 sets”
Q: You famously utilized the underarm serve (link) to success in that French Open final against Ivan Lendl, do you feel more ATP players should add that to their game?
Chang: “I wouldn’t encourage it, when I threw in that serve with Ivan it was such a unique situation in the spur of the moment, it’s the only time I’ve ever done it in my career. I had never done at any other stage on the ATP tour and I wouldn’t encourage it, except in specific circumstances”
Q: Talk about the difference between being a traveling top player on the ATP Tour, and now one of the ATP supercoaches with Kei, how are the roles different?
Chang: ” (It’s) not something I was expecting. (I was) not seeking a coaching position at the time, for me it was a unique situation, there have been very few Asian men that have done very well on tour.. Kei at the time was #17 in the world and having a hard time breaking into the top 10, only been a couple of Asian men who have done that. Asian women have done well though, including Li Na, while the men have struggled. This was a unique opportunity to have some influence, and to help a young talented Kei Nishikori break in to the next level. It’s been rewarding, and fun to see him improve and have success. It’s been tough on family, my wife and girls who I take everywhere, it’s nice to be together with my family. Travel can be difficult at times with two kids and one on the way, not sure how dynamic will change with new baby. Its been a great experience and I’ve enjoyed it. Want to help Kei improve and win a Grand Slam”
Q: You referenced Asian men’s tennis in the previous question, on that note, what are your thoughts on South Korean young gun Hyeon Chung and his rise up the rankings?
Chang: “He’s scheduled to play in Atlanta (at the BB&T Atlanta Open), (I) haven’t been able to see him play yet. ATP Atlanta, is a great opportunity for him to start off the US Open Series and get used to the hard courts, I’ve been following his results, and tennis is so popular in Atlanta. Hopefully he’ll continue to head in the right direction and make a splash in the US Open Series. It’s a tough field in Atlanta with top Americans. It’s nice to see the Americans doing well, some of the young Americans breaking through”
Q: What are your thoughts on the current crop of young American men, and American men’s tennis, can any of them win a Grand Slam?
Chang: “I’m not sure we can talk about slam titles at this stage, there are about 5 or 6 young American teens including Jared Donaldson, Stefan Kozlov and Frances Tiafoe who have been doing well. Even some of the older guys, Isner, Sock, Johnson, and Young have been doing well and improving. American men’s tennis is bright and encouraging now, hopefully they will do well in the US Open Series, it’s looking better now than it was a few years ago”.