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GIANT KILLERS
Curry Kirkpatrick
June 19, 1989
Teen terrors Michael Chang and Arantxa Sanchez pulled off amazing upsets at the French Open
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June 19, 1989

Giant Killers

Teen terrors Michael Chang and Arantxa Sanchez pulled off amazing upsets at the French Open

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By the time Chang disposed of Andre Chesnokov—who in the quarters defeated Wilander, the defending champion—in the semis, much of Chang's once charming implacability was now being seen by the French as hucksterism. A daily program at Roland Garros promoted the Chang-Chesnokov match as Le Russe et Le Ruse ("the Russian and the Trickster"). Chang won 6-1, 5-7, 7-6, 7-5 in another four-hour struggle, but not before he had slyly stolen still another edge by stopping play—without a line call—in the middle of a point. After the umpire was summoned to the dispute, he granted the point to Chang, and that set the French crowd firmly against the American.

But nothing upset the kid; nothing, in fact, seemed to stir him. "I don't think about the matches," he said, being sure to add his favorite phrase, "and stuff." Here he was about to become the youngest man ever to win a Grand Slam title, and he hardly changed expression. Joy? Enthusiasm? Nerves? Mais non. Hey, kid, excuse us. This French Open thing keeping you up?

Borg was weirdly desensitized in a similar way as a teenager. Wilander was too, when he won Paris at 17. But they were Swedes. Chang's from Southern California—sun, fun, surf, Janet Evans land, mall paradise, America the...Get Excited! But with Chang, nobody was home.

The son of two research chemists, Joe and Betty, Chang obviously inherited his computer-trap mind. Joe, whose family fled mainland China for Taiwan in the rout of Chiang Kai-shek, emigrated to the U.S. in 1966 and met Betty on a blind date in New York City. Michael has an older brother, Carl, who plays tennis for the University of California.

Betty says Michael plays tennis "to spread the word," and he surely did that last week, crediting his every victory to "the Lord Jesus Christ." After miraculously outlasting Lendl, he said, "I prayed, and my cramps went away. Maybe there are more important things to pray for, but everything that happens in my life is because of Him. I get my strength from Him. He's in control. He keeps me going."

Following the final, Edberg dismissed any higher authority holding sway over the result. But Chang again acknowledged the Lord, whose name the crowd greeted with not a few hefty boos and whistles. "I know every time I bring Jesus up, everybody nods and gets sick of it," he said. "But it's the truth. He gets all the credit."

Hey, whatever works: mom's noodles, computers, religion. But it was Chang who won the French Open and made such nifty history in Paris. Heaven—and the underhand serve—can wait.

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