Moments after he played the final match of his professional career at the U.S. Open, the man who always seemed driven to downshift into a deeper gear of desire on court spoke about his desire to use sports as "a vehicle to touch lives and inspire people."
Since retiring from tournament tennis after the 2003 U.S. Open, Michael Chang has continued to use sports to connect with people while spending some of his spare time watching Superheroes soaring above the net — armed with faith rather than a racquet.
The 34-year-old Chang has devoted much of his time to his work with The Chang Family Foundation, which launched the Christian Sports League in 2002 "as a vehicle for churches and organizations to outreach using sports." Chang was on hand recently to the end of the League's volleyball season where teams named the Superheroes, Notorious D.I.G. and Service With a Smile compete.
The next net the 1989 French Open champion sees will be on the tennis court this week in Naples as Chang makes his Outback Champions Series debut at the $140,000 Outback Champions Series–Naples, March 10-13th at The Players Club & Spa at Lely Resort in Naples, Florida. Naples will be the inaugural event on the 2006 Outback Champions Series, a collection of tennis events in the United States featuring the greatest names in tennis over the age of 30.
In 2006, Outback Champions Series events will also be staged in Boston (April 27-30th), Memphis (October 5-8th) and Houston (November 9-12th). In order to be eligible to compete on the Outback Champions Series, players must have reached at least a Grand Slam singles final, been ranked in the top five in the world or played singles on a winning Davis Cup team. Chang will be joined in Naples by former world No. 1 players John McEnroe, Jim Courier and Mats Wilander, 1987 Wimbledon champion Pat Cash, former U.S. Davis Cup star Aaron Krickstein, former Australian Open champion Petr Korda and former French Open finalist Mikael Pernfors.
Individual and series tickets for the Outback Champions Series–Naples start at $15 and can be purchased by calling (239) 649-7171 or by visiting www.championscuptennis.com.
Chang is best known for his courageous victory at the 1989 French Open at the age of 17, highlighted by spirited come-from-behind victories over Ivan Lendl in the round of 16 and Stefan Edberg in the men’s singles final. Ranked as high as No. 2 in the world during his 17-year career, Chang won 34 singles titles, while also reaching the singles final at the U.S. Open in 1996, the Australian Open in 1996 and again at the French Open in 1995. He also helped the United States to victory in the Davis Cup in 1990.
Question: How is it going to feel to be back in the competitive arena again on the Champions Cup Series?
Michael Chang: It certainly feels exciting to be back playing competitively again, especially since the last time I did that was at the U.S. Open in 2003 and adding to that excitement is the fact that I have an opportunity to play against the likes of Courier and McEnroe.
Question: Do professional athletes ever lose their zest to compete?
Michael Chang: Absolutely not. If the competitive spirit doesn’t come out in tennis, it will come out somewhere else — on the golf course, in bowling or even in fishing.
Question: What are your expectations on the Champions Cup Series?
Michael Chang: To be honest with you, I don't really know quite what to expect. I do know that the intensity and competitiveness will not have changed. I still expect a high quality level of tennis, considering that all of the players in the tournament are champions and have accomplished a lot throughout their careers. Most of them will probably get into the Hall of Fame or come close to it.
Question: How does the field for this week measure up?
Michael Chang: I actually think that it's an interesting mix, because you have a few different generations playing against each other. That being said, you can't necessarily say that one generation is better than the other, particularly with a guy like McEnroe who is 47 years old and coming off of a win on the regular tour. That says a lot for how he's playing.
Question: With some years of perspective, talk about the French Open in 1989 and just how magical week that was for you?
Michael Chang: I think what made those two weeks magical was not just the fact that I won it at 17, but even more so knowing that God's purpose for allowing me to win the French was not so much for me, but was more so for the fact that He wanted to bring a smile upon Chinese peoples' faces during a time when there wasn't a lot to smile about. Obviously, the situation in Tiananmen Square was going on and it was a very down time for Chinese people all over the world. I know that that's the reason for God allowing me to win.
Question: Besides that victory, what do you see as your other best achievements in tennis?
Michael Chang: I'd have to say probably winning the Davis Cup in 1990 and beating John McEnroe in five sets at the U.S. Open (1991 third round before a raucous late-night crowd in Armstrong Stadium).
Question: Besides playing on the Champions Cup Series, what are you occupying your time doing these days?
Michael Chang: I go to school part time at Talbot School of Theology (Biola). I do quite a few speaking engagements, sharing about my family, past experiences from tennis and my faith, and I also do a lot of work with the Chang Family Foundation in the aspects of outreach and ministry.
Question: Talk about your Davis Cup debut in Ft. Myers, Florida, in 1989?
Michael Chang: I think the Davis Cup at Ft. Myers was certainly very exciting for me, especially at such a young age (age 16, 11 months, 12 days — the second youngest American to play Davis Cup). I hadn't really accomplished that much, yet Tom Gorman had enough confidence in me to put me on the team. It was certainly a great experience and a lot of fun to be a part of.
Question: How did you feel first representing the US in that tie against Paraguay?
Michael Chang: I think it's always an honor to be able to represent the U.S. in anything. Certainly in Davis Cup, it’s even more so because it's not just player versus player or team versus team, but country versus country. So knowing that, you end up giving even more effort because the stakes are a lot higher.
Question: Do you feel as though the days of male players age 16 and 17 winning major ATP events and Grand Slams are a thing of the past?
Michael Chang: I wouldn't necessarily say that they are a thing of the past, but I will say that it's probably becoming a rarity. Since tennis is becoming so much more of a physical sport, for a young teenager to come out at that age and not be fully developed physically, it’s going to be much more difficult to play against these older, more developed players. I will not say it's impossible. But I will say it’s rare and becoming even more so.
Question: What are your thoughts on John McEnroe winning the San Jose doubles title at age 47?
Michael Chang: Isn't this the 500th doubles title that John has had in his career? John will always be a great doubles player…'til the day he dies. And to me, knowing John's tenacity and his talent, this win doesn't surprise me.