In the 1989 French Open, one of the 4th round clashes featured title favorite Ivan Lendl and unheard American Michael Chang.
Michael Chang was 15th seed and only 17. In contrast, Lendl was top seed and three-time champion of the French Open.
As expected, the gap seemed too much between the Czech giant and US greenhorn. Lendl took opening two sets easily by an identical score of 6-4.
Michael Chang fought back in the third. He battled to win it 6-3. That was the first set dropped by Lendl in the entire tournament.
Chang continued to fight. He got the opportunity in the sixth game of the fourth set to break Lendl. At the most inopportune moment, infallible Lendl fumbled. He committed a double fault. The game was on.
Lendl got 3 breakpoints in the very next game. Lendl could not capitalize on any. He derides umpire Richard Ings. Show of petulance leads to a code violation and one-point-penalty. Lendl gifted the game to Chang.
His patience snapped. Usually, cool Lendl suddenly looked visibly rattled. He started caviling for conditions at court and umpiring decisions. As the match proceeded, Lendl’s level dropped and Chang was on a comeback trail.
Over three and a half hours on the court had taken its toll on Chang. His calves were tightening up. It greatly restricted his freedom of movement. So, at the end of the fourth set, Chang started varying his shots from the baseline. He hit many moon-shots to shock the opponent.
In the fifth set, Chang dug out an early break. He led 2-0. Chang was now evidently tired.
The crowd gasped his employed tactics. His body stretching routine became more frequent. In the third game, he was more like a marathon runner who had hit the wall.
At 2-1, he couldn’t move. The match was heading towards a damp squib finish. But something struck his mind. He felt inner power to fight until the end.
17-year-old began to fight against his condition against the best man of tennis at that time. From somewhere, Chang earned another break from Lendl. Lendl broke immediately. It was now 3-3. In the next game, he screamed at every time on the stretch. The pain was visible in every stroke. Once again, he broke Lendl.
Trailing 15-30 in the next game, he made a decision that would be synonymous with him for a lifetime. He would serve underhand.
Lendl was looking mentally unstable. Chang was now leading 5-3. The miracle was close to reality. At 15-40 on Lendl’s serve, Chang made another decision that would pay dividends. He advanced to the service line to distract Lendl. As he was moving towards the net, the crowd got involved with whistles and cheers. The tactic worked. Lendl was so disturbed that he served a double fault. It ended the match. It lasted for four hours and 37 minutes. 16,500 people stood in applause. They were amazed by the fight and bravery of the victor.
Chang collapsed on his back. He was reduced to tears. Chang carried his dehydrated body somehow back to the chair. It also brought tears to the eyes of World number 1 who felt humiliated at the defeat by a cramp-crippled teenager.
Chang did not rest on his laurels. He won the next two matches in 4 sets to set up a date with Stefan Edberg in the summit clash. He was down 2-1. Again, he displayed his mental and physical toughness. He saved nine break points in the third and seventh games of the fourth set. It was the turning point of the final. After 3 hours and 41 minutes, he was crowned as the youngest Grand Slam male champion at Rolland Garros.
The American player Todd Martin once described Chang’s underhand serve as “the last stone that felled Goliath.” So true, this was an accurate assessment.
Stay Rackonnected and learn more about sports.