Pete Sampras wasn't in Vienna. O.K., so the refreshing, new U.S. Open champion doesn't speak the language on Europe's slow, copper-colored clay just yet. Andre Agassi wasn't there either. O.K., O.K., he was there, resplendent in those wunderbar image-is-everything glad rags. But once again on a significant occasion, Agassi, "Amerikas Tennis-Punker," as Austria's largest daily, Kronen Zeitung, called him, turned into just another shagged-out, earringed ad for Neon-R-Us.
America's teenage tennis resurrection continued in Austria only because that worldly little watch charm, Michael Chang—with roots in Taiwan, Hoboken, N.J., Placentia, Calif., and the throne room of the French Open—single-handedly (well, double-handedly) bailed the U.S. Davis Cup team out of a semifinal tie against Austria it had almost blown.
Talk about the sound of music. The U.S. visitors seemed hopelessly von Trapped after the home country's hero, Thomas Muster, and his not quite comrade-in-arms, Horst Skoff, had, one after the other, swamped Agassi and Chang in singles in five straight sets on Sunday, leaving the Austrians one set from victory. However, right then, two sets down to Skoff in the deciding match, Chang gritted his teeth, his brain and his racket and made believe he was a nerveless ingenue of 17 and it was springtime in Paris, rather than face the actuality of the moment—that he was a slump-and injury-ridden veteran of 18 wallowing around a court in a soccer stadium on an ugly, rain-drenched autumn evening in Vienna with 15,000 natives shouting "Auf Wiedersehen" at him.
What Chang did in 1989 at Roland Garros—he was the youngest player and lowest seed ever to win the French Open—was precocious, flukish, practically a miracle. What he did over 25 hours on Sunday and Monday in Vienna's Prater stadium made for some even more spectacular history.
By outlasting Skoff through a 6-4 third set before play was suspended by darkness on Sunday; by out-game-planning him during the overnight hiatus—a middle-of-the-night call to brother Carl back in Berkeley, Calif., resulted in the tactic of Chang's moving over to the alley and kick-serving wide to Skoff's backhand in the ad court—and by nervelessly outexecuting Skoff and sweeping the last two sets after still another long rain delay on Monday, Chang won 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 to carry the U.S. into the Davis Cup finals for the first time since 1984.
Oh yes, once before an American player had come from two sets behind to win the deciding fifth set in the deciding fifth match in a Davis Cup tie: Wimbledon, in 1937, Don Budge over Germany's Gottfried von Cramm, in the most famous match ever played. The little Changer has some kind of knack for timing.
To fully appreciate last week's Austria-US. tie, it must be understood that Austria is about as important to the upper echelons of international sport as Mozart is to, say, Aerosmith. Take away a few fast drivers and skiers and what you have left is the Austrian soccer team, which humiliated its homeland recently by losing to something called the Faroe Islands.
But this time, in tennis, the Austies posed an uncharacteristic threat to the Americans. There was Muster, ranked No. 7 in the world. A husky lefthander with mighty groundstrokes, Muster had worked himself back from a horrid 1989 accident in Miami in which his left knee was shattered by a drunken driver. This spring he won the Italian Open and reached the semifinals of the French Open. And there was the 21st-ranked Skoff, the outspoken squatty body who had recovered from May knee surgery to win a clay-court tournament in Geneva two weeks ago. And there was Alex Antonitsch, No. 60, Muster's doubles partner, who, like Harry Lime in The Third Man, emerged from nowhere, or from that place where they still give crew cuts, to reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
Was this a team, or what? The problem for the Austrians was that Skoff just doesn't get along with the guys, though he seems to do fairly swell with the girls; he's the current Horstthrob of the 1987 Miss World, Ulla Weigerstorfer. In past Davis Cup ties Skoff has had separate cars, locker rooms and even celebration parties from the rest of the Austrian team. More recently, so the story goes, Skoff threatened to file a lawsuit when he heard that Antonitsch had said he "didn't respect" Skoff. In response Antonitsch guaranteed he could come up with 100 people who agreed with him. No suit.
But Skoff versus Antonitsch is small sausage compared with the animosity between Skoff and Muster, who for several years have exchanged such niceties as "stupid," "farm boy peasant" (both are from rural backgrounds) and the ever-popular "ass——." Skoff cleared the air last week when he said, "Look, Thomas and I have played each other since we were 14, and we didn't like each other then. This isn't like soccer, where you have to pass the ball to the other guy."