YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

TENNIS / FRENCH OPEN : Upset of Chang Hits Him Hard


PARIS — What kind of tennis are they playing at the French Open now? Is it long, slow rallies that run longer than the Champs Elysees? Or is it some kind of new macho, smash-ball stuff that slid over to the clay from the hard courts?

In Michael Chang's humble opinion, we're talking goon squad here.

"The guys who do well are guys who just smash the ball, and the guys who do well against them, they smash the ball right back," said Chang, whose French Open experience Thursday was something short of smashing.

Bernd Karbacher, a 25-year-old, mop-haired big hitter from Munich, who four years ago sat at home and watched Chang win the French Open on television, sent Chang packing with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 upset.

Chang's second-round exit was his earliest defeat at Roland Garros Stadium, where he showed up for the first time as a 16-year-old in 1988.

Karbacher measures the power of his shots with a Richter scale, not a radar gun. So in the next-to-last game, when he reached out and redirected a first serve by Chang and sent the ball on a line into the far corner, it was pretty clear what the outcome was going to be.

"But I don't start packing my bags until the fat lady sings," said Chang, seeded eighth. "At that point, she wasn't humming yet. She didn't start humming until match point."

Meanwhile, most of the other top players continued singing a happy tune at Roland Garros, where the red clay courts suddenly don't seem so unfriendly to the game's power brokers.

An exception was sixth-seeded Petr Korda, a finalist last year who was upset in straight sets by Marc Goellner, a 22-year-old, cricket-loving son of a German diplomat who was born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in Australia.

Stefan Edberg moved steadily into the third round with a 6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 7-5 victory over Aaron Krickstein. Pete Sampras couldn't finish his second-round match against Marcos Ondruska because of rain after winning the first set, 7-5.

For Chang, losing on clay to someone who hits the ball as hard as Karbacher reinforced his belief that tennis no longer belongs to the meek, not even on clay.

"I need to get a little bit stronger," Chang said. "Guys like (Jim) Courier, they just smash it right back at the guy. I'm not quite able to do that when somebody smashes the ball . . . but if I could do that, by all means, I would."

Chang's defeat extended a surprising streak of not getting past the quarterfinals of a clay-court tournament since winning the French title in 1989. At 17, Chang was the youngest male to win a singles title in a Grand Slam event.

"I think there will be other French Opens for me," Chang said. "You can't dwell on past results, past things."

And you can't dwell on the ball when it has passed you.

The best thing about knocking the heck out of the ball is the thrill of the unexpected, meaning that for Karbacher and others like him, no one is ever quite certain where the ball is going. Against Chang, it mostly landed on the court.

The match was held over from Wednesday night because of rain and resumed with Chang serving at 1-1 in the fourth set, trailing two sets to one. Chang eventually held serve in a 19-point game, but then lost 15 consecutive points to trail 2-4 on his way to 2-5 when he popped a forehand into the net on break point.

Karbacher said he greatly admired Chang in 1989 for his French Open victory.

"He came from nowhere," said Karbacher, ranked No. 39. "He won the title and then everyone knows him."

French Open Notes

Aaron Krickstein, who has beaten Stefan Edberg twice in five-set matches at the U.S. Open, was longing for a five-set match Thursday, but he blew a 5-2 lead in the fourth. "I mean, you never know, but I would have taken my chances," Krickstein said. . . . Triple bagel award: It goes to Thierry Champion, who lost to Sergi Bruguera, 6-0, 6-0, 6-0, in one hour. . . . Derrick Rostagno and Mal Washington will meet in the third round. . . . Ukrainian teen-ager Andrei Medvedev moved into the third round with a straight-set victory over Renzo Furlan, highlighted when Medvedev stopped play to make eye contact with a woman in the stands. "I was laughing because I saw a very beautiful girl who was cheering for me and I was thinking 'No, this is unbelievable, finally.' When I want to laugh, I cannot hold my smile. That is what I wanted to do because she was beautiful. I am not like a robot. I cannot only hit the balls. So it was good." . . . Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Gabriela Sabatini and Mary Joe Fernandez won their second-round matches, but 11th-seeded Amanda Coetzer and 16th-seeded Kimiko Date were eliminated.

Los Angeles Times Articles