Chang wins after Gambill retires

Michael Chang didn't want to win his first title since 1998 this way.

Michael Chang didn't want to win his first title since 1998 this way.

Chang and Jan-Michael Gambill split sets, with Gambill winning the first 7-6 (2), and Chang winning the second 6-3 when Gambill retired with knee and ankle sprains in Sunday's Mercedes-Benz Cup final.

"To break through and win a title after the last couple years is special for me. It's been emotional for me," said Chang, whose ranking plunged to 76 last October. "The last couple of years have been a little bit tough."

It was the final blow to a tournament wracked by the loss of 10 players to illness, injury, default and upset during a week that began with top-seeded Andre Agassi withdrawing because of lingering back problems. No. 2 seed Mark Philippoussis was upset, while No. 3 Marcelo Rios was defaulted for verbally abusing the chair umpire.

Chang, the No. 4 seed, managed to avoid the pitfalls that claimed his competitors to win his first title in two years and the 34th of his 12-year pro career against a 23-year-old who's been tabbed the future of American tennis by no less an expert than Pete Sampras.

"He hits big from the ground. He's not one to finesse his shots. He gets the right ball and goes for it," Chang said. "Jan-Michael is going to continue to improve."

The same can be said for Chang. Already this year, the 1989 French Open champion has reached two finals and made the semis or better at five tournaments, including three of his last four.

"As each tournament has gone on and I've been able to play better, you get a little confidence from each victory," he said. "It makes me feel good about the possibility of bigger and better things in the future."

Gambill, the sixth seed, began the match with his left knee wrapped. It had been hurting him all week.

"My knee started getting worse in the second set," said Gambill, who wore bulging ice wraps on his knee and ankle after the match.

Neither player managed a service break in the first set, when Chang served three love games. Chang led 2-1 in the tiebreaker before Gambill won the final six points, including the last two on consecutive aces, to close out the set, 7-6. Gambill had 16 aces over two sets, giving him 45 in five matches.

"I had my hands full with the way he was playing and serving," Chang said. "I tried to get a lot of his serves back. I wasn't able to do that. Before I knew it, the breaker was over already."

They stayed on serve until the sixth game. Gambill called for the trainer to adjust his knee wrap before he began serving. He netted two straight backhands to give Chang the service break and a 4-2 lead.

Chang led 5-2 when Gambill began an abbreviated comeback. Gambill held serve in a game that started with three straight aces to trail 5-3. Gambill led 40-30 on Chang's serve when Chang threw up a lob. Gambill leaped and stabbed at it and landed heavily on his right ankle.

"I was trying not to land on my left leg. I came down on it wrong. I heard a pop. That's a bad sound," Gambill said. "It was very painful."

He winced and bent over, grabbing at his legs before hobbling to the chair. During a three-minute medical timeout, the trainer heavily wrapped Gambill's right ankle and foot. He returned to the court with a break point in hand, but sent a forehand long for deuce.

They played seven points, with an obviously pained Gambill gritting his teeth in between Chang's serves. Gambill hobbled back and forth along the baseline as they went to deuce twice more. Chang beat him with a backhand passing shot to close out the set 6-3.

"When he held serve, I knew I couldn't go another set," Gambill said.

The crowd of 7,027 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center gave Gambill a standing ovation after he told the umpire he was finished.

Australians Paul Kilderry and Sandon Stolle, the fourth seeds, won the doubles title in a walkover when the third-seeded team of Gambill and Scott Humphries couldn't play.

Results from the $375,000 Mercedes-Benz Cup ATP Tour hard-court tournament:

Singles - Final

Michael Chang (4), United States, def. Jan-Michael Gambill (6), United States, 6-7 (2), 6-3, ret.

Doubles - Final

Paul Kilderry and Sandon Stolle (4), Australia, def. Jan-Michael Gambill and Scott Humphries (3), United States, walkover.

Comments