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Tennis : Thomas Ho, 15, Steals Some of the Thunder From Elder Statesman Chang

September 04, 1988|Lisa Dillman

NEW YORK — There are those who watch Michael Chang pound his groundstrokes and wonder whether Chang, 16, of Placentia, can become another Andre Agassi. And already, there is someone being thought of as the next Michael Chang.

Thomas Ho has been questioned about Chang--a lot. Too much, as far as he is concerned.

"I expect it," said Ho, who at 15 years 2 months became the youngest male to compete in the Open when he lost to Johan Kriek, 6-4, 7-6, 7-6, in a first-round match Wednesday.

He has moved partly out of the shadow of Chang by breaking a couple of Chang's "youngest" marks this summer. In 1987, Chang, at 15 years 6 months, had become the youngest male to compete in--and win--a match at the Open, on the heels of his victory in the U.S. Tennis Assn. national 18-and-under event in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Ho, meanwhile, was busy dominating the 14-and-under division. He decided to skip an age group to compete in the 18-and-under this summer, and it paid off with the singles championship at Kalamazoo. That earned him a wild-card berth in the Open.

He nearly pushed Kriek to a fourth set, rallying from a 1-4 third-set deficit to force a tiebreaker. If Ho wasn't impressed with his own showing, Kriek, 30, was.

"After the match, I thought, 'I'm double the age of this kid,' " Kriek said. "I think in the next five years, you're going to see some unbelievable juniors from this country. There's going to be a lot of them.

"He has got a lot of shots. A lot of talent. He doesn't get rattled, which is impressive at that age. And when he was down, he raised the level of his play. . . . It's all up to him and the gods to see how far he can go."

Said Ho: "I'm satisfied with what I did, because I competed well. But the result came in. I lost."

Ho lives in Winter Haven, Fla., but his parents are from Taiwan. His father, Rong Ho, studied medicine at Tulane in the early 1970s and stayed in this country to become a radiologist.

"He's got a Rong dad but a right mother," Rong Ho said, joking with reporters.

"What we wanted to do was come here to get experience. And he got it. He lost, but he learned a lot. When we come back here, I'm pretty sure he'll be improved next year."

You can bet that he'll come back as a professional. The trend these days seems to be for players to turn pro at an early age. The Ho family seems to figure, "Let's give it a shot and see how he does."

So far, Ho seems to be following the Chang plot line, step by step. He is even ahead of schedule, if only by a few months.

"I don't know if you can say Michael is going to be the next Andre Agassi," said Betty Chang, Michael's mother. "We think they could be great, friendly rivals soon.

"And Tommy? He's already breaking Michael's records."

Betty Chang smiled at how improbable that would have seemed at this time last year.

"Maybe it's my fault," she said, joking. "Maybe he was born too late."

Forgettable Quote: "I really don't think of the U.S. Open as a Grand Slam tournament," said Australia's Wally Masur this week. "It's at the end of a long year for us. I think most of the Australians think more of the Australian Open and Wimbledon. To me, this is just another hard-court tournament. And I think some of the other guys feel that way, too."

Well, it wouldn't seem as though the rest of the group from Down Under feels that way.

To be fair, Masur made this remark before two of his countrymen recorded big victories--Mark Woodforde over No. 16-seeded John McEnroe and Darren Cahill over No. 5 Boris Becker--en route to spots in the round of 16. And before another Aussie, John Frawley, knocked off Paul Annacone and No. 10 Henri Leconte, also to reach the final 16. And before 18-year-old Jason Stoltenberg of New South Wales upset No. 7 Yannick Noah.

You get the idea.

Oh, that Barbara Potter. Once again, Potter was getting attention for changing her shirt and skirt during changeovers at the U.S. Open.

This time, Potter, who has to change her shirt when it gets damp with sweat because of a back condition, wandered to the back corner of the court to a makeshift tentlike closet to change. Apparently, an enterprising New Yorker approached her with the idea of a changing closet. Potter decided to give the idea a shot.

"They all say Potter's a crusader, but I just have to get it done," she said.

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