'School and tennis can both be winners'

'School and tennis can both be winners'

Veteran Michael Chang, who became the youngest grand-slam champ at just 17, has tips for Hong Kong's rising star


Michael Chang with Hong Kong student Justine Leong, 12, on Saturday. She will play in this month's Paris contest for rising stars.
Michael Chang with Hong Kong student Justine Leong, 12, on Saturday. She will play in this month's Paris contest for rising stars.
Photo: Xinhua


Chang in action at the French Open, in 1992.
Chang in action at the French Open, in 1992.
Photo: AFP

It is 25 years since American tennis player Michael Chang Te-pei became the youngest ever men's grand-slam tennis singles champion at the French Open, aged 17 years and 110 days. His five-set victory in 1989, over Sweden's Stefan Edberg, was his only grand-slam title.

On Sunday, the 42-year-old, whose parents were born in Taiwan, will be back in Paris for the Roland Garros clay court tournament - not as a player, but as a coach to Japan's current world number 10, Kei Nishikori.

He has been guiding Nishikori since December, and already has helped the player win the Barcelona Open and reach this month's final at the Madrid Open.

Last Saturday, Chang was in Hong Kong, where he has been a favourite with local crowds since his heyday, to meet Justine Leong, a Form One student at Diocesan Girls' School.

Justine, 12, will be Hong Kong's representative in this month's Longines Future Tennis Aces 2014 competition. She will join 15 other under-13 girls, all from different countries, in the fifth edition of the knock-out tournament, held in front of Paris' Eiffel Tower on May 29-31.

Chang turned professional when he was still only 15, but he does not recommend that Hong Kong students turn their backs on school and university studies to play the sport full time.

The father of two young daughters, aged one and three, says: "It really depends where the passion of young players lies, but I would never encourage youngsters to drop out of school to pursue playing tennis," he says.

"There must be a balance. They can get a great education and still pursue their dream of being a tennis player; it doesn't have to be only one or the other."

Rather than leaving school textbooks behind to focus on studying, Chang suggests that youngsters go "step by step" in following a tennis career.

"They can start off with playing some local tournaments," he says. "After getting good results, they may try playing in other age groups at tournaments, or in different parts of Asia, and eventually play in some ITF [International Tennis Federation] tournaments.

"In this way, they may miss a bit of their studies, but can still keep going to school. I believe they can strike a balance."

Chang says he was able to combine his studies with the sport in the same way; although he turned professional while still at school, he was still able to complete his US high school diploma before joining the men's tour full time.

Last weekend, he was happy to share some tips with Justine about how best to serve and hit the ball on clay courts.

He also told her that her defensive style of play will make her a tough rival because many players in tournaments dislike facing opponents that use such tactics.

Chang also spent time teaching a master class to young Hong Kong players at Hong Kong Football Club.

As a former grand-slam clay court champion, Chang is happy Hong Kong now has courts with this surface at Sha Tin's newly renovated Hong Kong Sports Institute.

"It's great for players to experience matches on clay courts," he says. "Your footing is a bit different than on other surfaces, and clay also makes the ball bounce higher; you don't get a straight, even bounce either.

"Players need different exposure, so it's helpful Justine can practise on clay every day before heading to Paris."

Chang said he believes the success of China's Li Na (李娜)- a two-time grand-slam women's singles winner, including the 2011 French Open title - has helped to inspire mainlanders to play the sport.

"Li Na's success is helping to grow the sport in China; it will have the same effect in Hong Kong."

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
'School and tennis can both be winners'


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