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WIMBLEDON : Schapers Chopped Up by Chang

July 02, 1989|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON — Is it about time to start taking Michael Chang seriously at Wimbledon? Wasn't he supposed to be getting severe grass burns or something?

Although seeded ninth, Chang was not expected to reach the fourth round, which he managed on a gray Saturday when he finished the first week of Wimbledon as one of 16 players left in the men's singles draw.

This doesn't necessarily mean Chang is one of the world's 16 best grass-court players any more than are fellow survivors Paul Chamberlin and Leif Shiras.

Chang seems as surprised as anyone that he has done so well.

"Sometimes you really have strange upsets, and people wonder why," Chang said.

He gave up 10 inches and acres of grass-court experience to Michiel Schapers of the Netherlands. He spotted Schapers a 5-1 lead in the third set, then sped away with the match as though he were chasing down a volley.

Chang did that plenty of times, too. He tracked balls as if he had seen them on radar, and collected an unexpected 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 victory.

He really can't win this thing, can he?

"I think it would be a surprise for everybody--including myself," Chang said. "But I'm just going to try my best. And if I do, great."

Next up for Chang is Tim Mayotte, also an experienced grass-court player, who said he may be just the guy for the job.

"Somebody is going to have to break that spirit," the eighth-seeded Mayotte said. "I'm really excited to go out there and play."

The sixth day at Wimbledon was the first without rain, but other than that, everything went according to form.

John McEnroe moved into the fourth round with an easy, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, victory over Jim Pugh of Palos Verdes and Monday will play John Fitzgerald of Australia next.

McEnroe and Chang would meet in the semifinals, if they get that far. Defending champion Stefan Edberg of Sweden, who might play Chang in the quarterfinals, eased past Scott Davis of Largo, Fla., 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

But while McEnroe and Edberg were expected to advance this far, Chang's presence is surprising.

Schapers, 29, is a fast-court specialist who reached the Australian Open quarterfinals in 1985 and 1988. A victory over clay-court devotee Andres Gomez of Ecuador in the second round seemed like good preparation for the Chang match.

But not many are playing like Chang these days. Schapers' twisting serves got him 4-0 and 5-1 leads in the third set. Chang, who had little trouble solving Schapers' service in the second set, suddenly lost it, then found it again.

He won the next five games and broke Schapers three times to win the set.

"I was lucky to pull that set out," Chang said.

There have been a lot of 1-5s in his life and some when he has been on the other end. So it was a long time ago that Chang learned how to deal with adversity. Someone else taught it to him.

"Sometimes you don't always pull it out, but you always try because you know that there's a thought of always coming back," Chang said.

"And for me, probably the match that stays most in my mind--not me coming back, but the person I played--I was playing Mark Rehe in a sectional tournament.

"It was the first round, and I was up, 5-2, in both sets and I ended up losing, 7-6, 7-6. So that match is always going to be in my mind to always let me know that no matter how far you're down . . . maybe something will click."

Chang said he was 11 when he played that junior match.

Now, of course, he is an experienced 17 and ranked No. 6 in the world.

Chang traded service breaks with Schapers, who served at 5-6 in the fourth.

Chang maneuvered Schapers to 15-40 and won on the first match point when a forehand volley landed in the net.

Once again, Chang won with his tactic of occasionally attacking, usually when the ball falls short. A longshot before the tournament, Chang finds the odds on him are now getting shorter.

"I think anybody has a good shot at it," Chang said. "For me, being in the round of 16 at the French, I didn't think I could win it.

"But . . . people play better in the big tournaments. And I think that on a given day, on any given day . . ."

McEnroe hopes his day is coming. McEnroe, the last U.S. man to win Wimbledon, five years ago, assessed his own chances.

"Well, I'm still here," he said. "I feel like my game is improving and I like my chances."

As long as McEnroe and Chang continue winning, their paths could cross. And that brings up the potential for some air-conditioning, McEnroe style.

The day after Chang won the French Open, McEnroe said he would drop his pants on Centre Court if Chang reached the Wimbledon final.

"I'm not worried that I'm going to drop my pants," McEnroe said.

"I'm not surprised, the players he's played, that he's still in the tournament," McEnroe said. "But I'm not holding my breath about dropping my pants yet. I'll be worried on Friday if he's still in the semis."

Tennis Notes

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