Tennis: Chang's new serve packs hefty punch: Courier's flame reduced to a flicker by compatriot's sling-shot accuracy and panache

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The Independent Online
JIM COURIER, who watched Boris Becker's lighted birthday cake wheeled on court at the Festhalle here a year ago after losing his second consecutive ATP Tour Championship final, could not hold a candle to Michael Chang last night in the opening match of the round robin.

Chang defeated his American compatriot 6-4, 6-0 in 91 minutes, inflicting the first love set Courier has conceded since he was swept away by Stefan Edberg in the final of the 1991 United States Open.

It was Chang's first win in three visits to the grand prix finale, having gained only two sets in his six previous matches (one against Richard Krajicek last year, the other against John McEnroe in 1991). A straight sets defeat by Courier last year ended his prospects of a place in the semi-finals, but on this occasion Chang's form was as irresistible as the world No 2's was suspect.

Serving with a potency and consistency so often lacking in his quest to add major titles to his prodigious French Open success in 1989, and volleying with panache, Chang was Courier's master in every part of the court.

It was in Germany that the 5ft 9in Chang was asked if he ever became frustrated when overpowered by bigger opponents. 'Being a Christian,' he said, 'I like the David and Goliath story.' A much improved sling shot is beginning to pay dividends. 'It's by no means a Goran serve, or anything like that, but I'm continuing to work at it till it can get better and better,' he said.

A running forehand winner on the opening point had the crowd tingling and let Courier know that a difficult night was in prospect. Even so, both players saved break points in the opening four games, and at 4-4 few observers could have guessed that Chang was about to win the next eight games.

He double-faulted on his first set point, then steadied himself after missing another first serve to deliver a backhand down the line. He then broke Courier in the opening game of the second set, and saved a break point to lead 2-0. And when Courier created two more chances in the fourth game, Chang salvaged the first with an ace and tempted his opponent to slice a backhand into the net on the second.

Courier chose the occasion to show off a new Nike outfit, broad blue and white QPR hoops replacing the baseball style pinstripes that complemented his trademark cap. The switch from Pete Rose to Rodney Marsh did not encourage him to strike the ball with greater confidence than previously in a lean latter part of the season.

The battle here has only begun, of course. Courier reached the final last year after losing to Goran Ivanisevic in the round robin. 'I can still make it,' he said. Andrei Medvedev will take a similiar view after losing his opening contest against Michael Stich, 6-3, 6-4. Likewise Sergi Bruguera, who was beaten by Stefan Edberg 6-2, 6-4.

Courier had won his six previous matches with Chang. His last defeat, in Florida in March 1992, also in straight sets, coincided with an ATP Tour forum on the speed of the game. This one followed a symposium addressing the declining interest in the game. When the going gets tough, Chang gets going.

(Photograph omitted)