Tennis: Chang's spirit decisive

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The Independent Online
THE remarkable Michael Chang has become the master of upstaging the power game. Back in March, on the very day that the ATP tour held a seminar on this very subject, the diminutive American walloped Jim Courier, the world No 1 in the Lipton tournament in Florida.

Yesterday, when the 6ft 4in Croatian Goran Ivanisevic passed the 1,000-mark in aces for the year Chang defeated him in five sets in three hours and 39 minutes to advance to today's final of the dollars 6m Compaq Grand Slam Cup. Chang, who won 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, is guaranteed at least dollars 2.45m ( pounds 1.6m) from three visits to the event (two finals and a semi-final).

One of the gifts that the organisers have left in Chang's hotel room is an Indiana Jones hat, and it might be appropriate for him to wear it for today's final, in which he faces Germany's Michael Stich, the 1991 Wimbledon champion, another big server. They will duel for the jackpot, the winner receiving dollars 2m ( pounds 1.3m), the loser dollars 1m ( pounds 660,000). Stich also had to struggle yesterday to overcome Pete Sampras, the inaugural Grand Slam Cup winner, 7-6, 7-6, 3-6, 7-6, in two hours and 56 minutes.

The German, who was defeated in last year's semi-finals, has met Chang on two occasions, beating him on a hard court in Memphis last year and losing on a carpet court in Antwerp last month.

The temperamental Ivanisevic, who ended John McEnroe's career as a tournament professional on Thursday, would have been aware that Chang is one of the hardest players to disabuse, even on 'Supreme', the fastest carpet court in the world. Though the Croatian had played Chang only once before, defeating him in straight sets at the ATP championship in Frankfurt last month, the American's marathon contest against Stefan Edberg in the semi- finals of the US Open in September remains vivid.

The fact is that Ivanisevic double-faulted 19 times yesterday, which rather negated his 25 aces. His ace total for the three matches here was 60, bringing the number this year for the ATP Tour and Grand Slam Cup to 1,017 - in addition to which he was credited with 49 aces at the Olympics.

Ivanisevic delivered the 1,000th ace at 2.06pm GMT to take a 5-1 lead in the tie-break, which he won, 7-3. At this point it seemed that Chang was about to be overwhelmed, but signs that the Croatian was about to suffer one of his lapses became evident in the third game of the second set. Ivanisevic double-faulted twice in his next service game, the second time at 0-40, to go 2-3 down. He managed to hold his temper in check until losing the first point of the next game by overhitting a forehand. He then belted a ball up into the lights and was given a warning. Ivanisevic again double- faulted to lose his serve for 2-5. Chang then had the audacity to serve out the set with an ace.

As if to remind the crowd that he is the master when it comes to snatching free-points, Ivanisevic hit three aces to hold serve in the next game. Imagine his feelings when Chang then produced an ace to save a break point in the fourth game (the American produced 13 in the match, along with eight double-faults).

Ivanisevic was plagued by two more double-faults to lose serve at 3-4, the second one on break point, though Chang deserves credit for creating the opportunity with a backhand drive down the line. When his opponent missed a break point to level in the next game, Chang won the set without further trouble to take a 2-1 lead.

Mistakes crowded in on both sides of the net and when Ivanisevic broke for 4-2 there was no doubt that the match would go into a fifth set.

Both players have an impresssive success rate in five-set matches, Ivanisevic's defeat by Andre Agassi in the Wimbledon final being only his third loss in 15 matches which had gone the distance. He was the first to crack here, losing his serve in the fourth game. Chang, helped by a point penalty awarded against his opponent for tossing his racket, which bounced from his court over the net into the American's, eagerly sped through the door, though he needed six match points before securing victory.

GRAND SLAM CUP (Munich): Semi-finals: M Chang (US) bt G Ivanisevic (Croa) 6-7 6-2 6-4

3-6 6-3; M Stich (Ger) bt P Sampras (US) 7-6 7-6 3-6 7-6.

(Photograph omitted)

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