Michael Chang Biography
Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Further InformationSELECTED WRITINGS BY CHANG:
American tennis player
Michael Chang was the youngest tennis player to be ranked among the five best players in the world. Just fifteen years old when he came out from the juniors becoming the youngest player to win a major match at the U.S. Open, and the youngest go to the Tour semifinals, Chang turned pro in 1988. In 1989, at the age of 17, he became the youngest player ever to win the French Open, and the first American to win the event since 1955.
A devout Christian, Chang attributes his success to God. "People need to understand," he told the San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Keown, speaking of his religion, "it's my first priority in life, and I'm going to give glory where glory's due." He acknowledged that his outspoken beliefs "can be a touchy subject…but it's something I'm going to speak out about."
Michael Chang was born in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City, in 1972. His father, Joe, was a refugee from Canton, China during the Chinese revolution in 1948. After first living in Taiwan for 18 years, Joe Chang emigrated to New
Jersey to pursue a master's degree in chemistry. On a blind date in New York City he met Chang's mother, Betty, also Chinese. "My mom's sister knew my dad's family and decided to do the matchmaking," Chang explained to Tom Archdeacon in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "It's kind of an old Chinese custom, where families get involved in putting a boy and girl together."
Soon after Chang's birth, his family moved to Minnesota. When Chang was seven years old, and his talent for tennis already apparent, the family moved to Carlsbad, California, where he and his older brother Carl could practice their game year-round. As a child, Chang idolized the top tennis players of the time, "[John] McEnroe for his talent," as he told Archdeacon, "[Jimmy] Connors for his never-say-die attitude and [Bjorn] Borg for his coolness."
Although he began playing tennis at an early age, "I never felt the pressure to play tennis," Chang told Keown. "My parents would tell me I didn't have to be a tennis player, but their message was always the same: Do what you enjoy, but when you choose a profession, be the best at it."
It was advice he took to heart. He worked his way up through the junior tournaments, in the eighth grade, winning the San Diego California Interscholastic Federation Individual Championship, and turning pro just a week before he turned 16. Only a year later, at the age of 17, he won the French Open.
In 1989 Chang became the youngest male to win the French Open. His accomplishments there included defeating Ivan Lendl, who was the number one ranked tennis player in the world, and then besting Stefan Edberg, the then-current Wimbledon champion, in the final to win the Open. Upon winning, Chang said on his Web site, "I thank the Lord Jesus Christ, because without Him, I am nothing."
Chang's family took an active role in his career from the beginning; his brother Carl acted as his coach, and his father managed the finances—a serious business, since Chang eventually earned close to $18 million in tournament purses alone—not including product endorsements. Chang explained his family's close involvement this way to Keown: "That's part of the Chinese culture—Asian families are close-knit. My family's made a lot of sacrifices for me. The first four years I turned pro, my mom quit her job to come and travel with me. That's a great sacrifice, and it was great to have my mom travel with me when I was still a teenager."
Chang became a devout Christian in 1988 when he was 15 years old. As he said on his Web site, "My grandparents had given me a Bible and they wanted me to read it every day. On this one particular evening I didn't have anything else to do so I decided to take a good luck at my Bible." He found much that was relevant to his own life and search for meaning, and he launched a personal study of Christianity. "Eventually, I accepted Him as my Lord and Savior."
Chang's comparatively small stature (five feet, nine inches, 150 pounds) made him an underdog in his own eyes, battling bigger and heavier opponents, who typically outweighed him by 20 pounds. But, this only made him play harder, again taking his inspiration from Christianity. Chang told Keown that although his frame is small, he saw this "as a way to glorify the Lord." Chang took advantage of his smaller size to be quicker on his feet than his opponents, finessing his way through tournaments where other players relied on brute power.
Triumphing at a series of tournaments though the 1990s, Chang became an international tennis sensation. By the end of 2002, he had won a total of 34 titles. Chang's successes made him popular in Asian countries where tennis fans were used to seeing mostly Europeans or European-Americans playing in the major events. "Hopefully," he told Tom Archdeacon in the St. Louis Dispatch, "in the future there will be some Asian tennis players coming on strong like Bjorn Borg made an impact in Sweden."
As 2002 drew to a close and his game began to lose steam, Chang, now 30, began to think about retirement. The decision to retire within the next year or so improved his focus. One of his opponents in 2002, number one ranked Lleyton Hewitt, told Jim Allen of the Daily Yomiuri, "In the last few weeks, he's played some of the best tennis he's played in three or four years." Chang agreed, telling Allen, "Strangely I'm more relaxed. My personality is one to work very hard. At times in my career, I've overworked and that's hurt me…. There comes a time when it's time to move on and to move on to other things."
Chang gave no hint as to what new career he might pursue after tennis. But he has left no doubt as to what leisure pursuits might be on his horizon; the sport he enjoys most besides tennis is fishing. "Fishing is more difficult than tennis," he told Archdeacon, "It takes more preparation and technique. You have to decide what to fish for, the type of hook, the position of the boat" and what kind of bait to use. "It's such a big challenge."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY CHANG:
With Mike Yorkey. Holding Serve: Persevering On and Off the Court. Nashville: T. Nelson, 2002.
Sketch by Michael Belfiore
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