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Chang Exits Early Again

1989 French Open champion continues bittersweet farewell, falling to Philippoussis in second round at Mercedes-Benz Cup.

August 01, 2003|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

Michael Chang has made plenty of plans for his impending retirement.

He'll be working on his golf game, maybe doing a little more fishing, and sponsoring and organizing events through the Chang Family Foundation's sports outreach program.

"I'm going to be busy; I'm just not going to have to deal with 140-mph serves," he said.

Chang, playing in the Mercedes-Benz Cup for the last time in his 16-year career, got a look, make that a glimpse, of more than enough high-powered serves courtesy of fifth-seeded Australian Mark Philippoussis in a 6-2, 6-4 second-round loss to the resurgent Wimbledon runner-up Thursday at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA.

Philippoussis (6 feet 4, 202 pounds) took a 4-1 lead that he never relinquished in the first set and then went up a break at 3-1 in the second set on a 136-mph service ace that whizzed past Chang before he could move.

The play marked Philippoussis' hardest serve of the match, was one of his eight aces and epitomized much of what Chang said has changed in tennis since he began his pro career in 1988.

"The size of the players, for sure, has changed. When I started, the average player was about 5-10. Now, the average height of players in the top 100 is around 6-2," said Chang, who at 5-9 and 160 pounds has always relied on speed and game tactics rather than size and strength.

"They're better athletes now. They hit a lot harder. And the balls are coming back much faster, too. The game is a lot harder, depth-wise, now. You can't really walk through a first- or second-round match anymore."

Chang certainly hasn't. He is 2-7 this year and has been knocked out in the first round of six of the seven ATP Tour tournaments he has played. All of the losses have made it a long, bittersweet goodbye for Chang, the 1989 French Open champion.

"To win matches, it takes a lot out of him," Philippoussis said.

Nevertheless, Chang appears to be happily engaged in his farewell tour of selected events. He won the Mercedes-Benz tournament in 1996 and 2000, and he spoke candidly after the loss to Philippoussis.

"It was something that I wanted to do," he said. "I've been so blessed through tennis that to play my last tournament, say, 'OK, I'm done. See ya,' and then just walk away, I just felt like that would be a little bit cold."

For Chang, like many players and ATP tour officials, the tournament calendar is a big issue, one that factored, at least to some extent, into his decision to retire after the upcoming U.S. Open.

"I feel like the tour has become more demanding," he said. "When I started my career, we were playing 15-20 tournaments a year. Now, most players are up to 25-27 tournaments, and some as many as 30 or 35. I just don't know if I can put that kind of effort in after 16 years. The younger players now do it, but I'm not sure it's good for them. Tennis shouldn't be like that. It's just tougher now."

After 16 years, Chang should know.

*

Fourth-seeded Gustavo Kuerten, a three-time French Open champion, continued preparation for a run at a U.S. Open title with a 6-3, 7-6 (5) second-round victory over former UCLA All-American Eric Taino, a 28-year-old left-hander whose success has come primarily in doubles.

Taino and Kuerten are competing as a team for the first time in the Mercedes-Benz doubles draw.

Seventh-seeded Wayne Ferreira of South Africa also advanced to the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (1), 6-3 victory over Alex Bogomolov Jr.

Ferreira, an Australian Open semifinalist in January, will play second-seeded Sebastien Grosjean in the quarterfinals. Grosjean, who advanced to the semifinals at Wimbedon before losing to Philippoussis, defeated 20-year-old American Robby Ginepri, 6-2, 6-3. Ginepri won his first ATP tournament championship two weeks ago at Newport, R.I.

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