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CHALLENGER OF CALABASAS

Chang Makes Quick Work of Mamiit

April 15, 2002|LAUREN PETERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The end is near. But it's not here.

Top-seeded Michael Chang defeated No. 5-seeded Cecil Mamiit, 6-3, 7-5, in 89 minutes Sunday in the championship match of the U.S. Tennis Assn. Challenger of Calabasas at Calabasas Tennis and Swim Club for his first tournament title since winning the Los Angeles Open in 2000.

"It feels great," Chang said. "Coming into this week, I was hoping to win a match."

Since advancing to the quarterfinals of a Challenger event at Hawaii in January, Chang, 30, had lost in the first round of six consecutive tournaments, including last week at Tarzana, where he also was seeded No. 1.

On Sunday, he finally felt like a top-seeded player, even if it happened in a lower-level match than he has been used to playing for most of his career, and on a tour he has been forced to join on a regular basis to gain ranking points and boost his sagging confidence, admittedly hurt by two years of struggle on the court.

His last victory in an ATP Tour match came at Vienna in October.

"I think most people would see this as just a Challenger, but I see it as much more than that, especially because it has been so long," Chang said. "The longer you play, every victory that you get becomes that much sweeter."

The victory over Mamiit finally gave the 1989 French Open champion more titles in challengers (two) than in grand slams (one) because he rarely had to play at the developmental levels after bursting on the scene as a teenager. It probably will give Chang, No. 92 in the world in the ATP entry-system rankings, a standing high enough to ensure direct entry into this year's French Open on May 28-June 10.

Although his career is winding down, the French Open will not be his swan song. Chang said he plans to play for at least another two years.

"I think if you asked me that a week ago, I might have had a very different answer," he said. "Obviously, that's not set in stone. It's been a really tough road for me. But it's not a pride thing for me. I'm just out here trying to help my game and help my confidence. If I get to the point where I don't want to be out there and working as hard as I can, then I'll know it's time."

In the doubles final, Paul Rosner of South Africa and Glenn Weiner outlasted Paul Goldstein and former UCLA player Justin Gimelstob, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4).

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