AP Was There: Chang, 17, overcomes cramps, Lendl in Paris

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·4 min read
FILE - In this June 5, 1989, file photo, Michael Chang falls to the ground crying after he defeated top-seeded Ivan Lendl at the French Open tennis championships in Paris. Chang, 17, toppled the top-seeded Lendl 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. (AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau, File)
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for one reason or another. There are upsets. Comebacks. Dramatic moments. Historic accomplishments. The AP is republishing stories about a handful of such matches while the postponed Grand Slam tournament was supposed to be played. One memorable comeback at Roland Garros came in the fourth round in 1989, when Michael Chang overcame leg cramps and a two-set deficit to beat top-seeded Ivan Lendl. Chang would go on to win the title at age 17 and still holds the record for youngest male champion at a major. The following story was published on June 5, 1989.



AP Sports Writer

PARIS (AP) -- When his legs knotted up, his body dehydrated and he was warned for time-wasting, Michael Chang’s brave rally to remain in the French Open tennis championships seemed a lost cause.

Then, the 17-year-old from Placentia, California, went for the only option left to try and beat the world’s top-ranked player, Ivan Lendl.

He went for Lendl’s mind.

“I had to try something,” Chang said. “I tried to break his concentration.”

Hitting long, looping balls, interspersed with smashing winners, Chang fought as hard as he could to keep Lendl guessing.

At one stage, he even served underhand - and won the point when a bewildered Lendl volleyed wide.

“I was just popping in my serves any way I could,” Chang said. “I think the underhand serve shocked him a little.”

Then, on match point, Chang tried another tactic, moving up to the service line to confuse Lendl.

Chang said that was “just to make him think. I just stood there to bother his concentration.”

The plan worked again. Lendl double-faulted and Chang, with a 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory, had produced a startling upset.

“When I started to cramp, I knew that the longer the points went, the harder it would be for me to win,” Chang said after Monday’s 4-hour, 38- minute victory that put him into the quarterfinals.

“If I put any pressure on any muscle, I would cramp immediately. I did everything I could to win as many points as possible. When I had a chance, I went for it.”

Had the cramps occurred earlier, Chang probably would have lost. But by the time the pain began, he already had Lendl rattled, having fought back from a two-set deficit to tie the match.

Lendl, who was warned for unsportsmanlike conduct in the first set and penalized a point for arguing during the fourth, suddenly found himself facing an ailing opponent and a crowd that was rooting wildly for the underdog.

Chang’s coach, former Spanish Davis Cup player Jose Higueras, said he had never seen a match like it.

“I’ve been in tennis some years and this is the most incredible match I ever saw,” Higueras said. “Mike showed he has the stuff of a champion. He’s a very smart player. It was memorable.”

Chang, who had beaten Lendl in their only previous meeting - a three-set exhibition at Atlanta last month - became the youngest player ever to reach the men’s quarterfinals in the French Open.

He said he first felt the cramps towards the end of the third set but that the pain did not intensify until the final set.

Hardly able to serve, Chang gave Lendl soft, half-court balls to return and was broken twice in the final set. But on Lendl’s serve, he finished the points as quick as he could, mostly with backhand winners down the line, and broke Lendl four times.

Between points, Chang drank as much water as he could during the permitted 15 seconds and walked around the baseline, trying to prevent his muscles from tightening.

At changeovers, he stayed on his feet, afraid to sit down for fear of tensing up completely and defaulting.

In the third game of the fifth set, Chang was warned for time-wasting. At that point, he said, he was ready to give up.

“I was surprised I was able to hold on so long,” Chang said. “When I was given a warning, both my thighs were cramping. I thought I could no longer go on, but I said my prayers and the cramps went away a little. I tried to keep calm and not panic.”

At the end, he fell on his back in a mixture of exhaustion and exhilaration, his mother watching from the stands.

In his moment of glory, Chang was more excited about nursing his body than his remarkable performance. He next plays unseeded Ronald Agenor of Haiti.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” he said. “I’m just thinking now about recovering from the cramps. I just want to go to sleep.”