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Chang walks away from tennis with no regrets

Michael Chang concluded his career in much the same manner as he lived it for 16 years ? finding joy in struggle and triumph in trying.

india Updated: Aug 27, 2003 11:19 IST

Michael Chang concluded his tennis career in much the same manner as he lived it for 16 years -- finding joy in the struggle and triumph in the trying.

The 31-year-old Asian-American star retired here Tuesday after losing to 15th seed Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 6-3, 7-5, 5-7, 6-4 in a first-round match at the year's final Grand Slam tournament.

Despite never reaching the pinnacle of world number one and being unable to capture another Slam title after his 1989 French Open crown at age 17, Chang left the sport with a smile on his face and no regrets.

"If you walk away having regrets and not with a smile, something is not right," Chang said. "It's important to walk away feeling good whether you win or you lose.

"I wouldn't change a thing. You have your opportunities to win and you take them as best you can. Sometimes you come through, sometimes not. Unfortunately for me, that second Grand Slam never came.

"But the Lord blessed me with more than I ever imagined. I can walk away feeling good about it."

Just 18 hours after 14-time Grand Slam champion Pete Sampras was given a royal sendoff on the same Arthur Ashe Stadium court, 223rd-ranked Chang made a relatively low-key exit to a standing ovation after a 2-10 farewell season.

"Not every athlete gets an ovation like that," Chang said. "It's special. You learn people care about me. This year I've learned more about how much people care about me than the years I played on tour.

"After 16 years, it will be nice to unpack my bags."

Chang defeated Sweden's Stefan Edberg in a thrilling five-set Roland Garros final 14 years ago to become the youngest men's Slam champion ever at 17 years and three months.

"The French Open brought out a cetain characteristic in me that was already there," he said. "It gave me a tremendous amount of confidence to go into any match knowing I was able to win. You go back to those memories and feed off that energy."

The defining match of Chang's career was a fourth-round, five-set win over then-number one Ivan Lendl on his way to that title. Cramps forced Chang to serve underhanded at one point in a duel that went four hours and 37 minutes.

"That match taught me a lot about life," Chang said. "As a person and player I have had to fight. Those kinds of matches remind me that to fight and not give up is a great thing.

"It would be nice to be remembered as a person who gave his best win or lose."

Failures dogged Chang. He peaked at second in the rankings in 1996 after losing the US Open final to Sampras. Chang's life might have been different had he won that day.

"I sometimes think about that," he said. "If I had won that match and I had become number one, I would have lost a little bit of drive.

"Even though I didn't win that match it helped get me through some difficult times. I learned a lot about myself and life," Chang said. "Those things developed characteristics in me as a person that will help me in the future."

Chang lost the 1996 US and Australian Open finals and in the semi-finals of both events in 1997. Chang never again reached the fourth round at a Slam, never wore that second Slam crown.

"I came awfully close," Chang said. "All I can say is I went out and tried. That's all you can ask of yourself."

Chang has won 34 titles and more than 19 million dollars, finishing with a career mark of 662-312 record. His career began as a US Open wild card entry, at age 15 in 1987, and ended the same way.

"It was emotional for me," Chang said. "I tried to keep my mind on other things to keep my composure. The last few years have been tough but I pushed myself. I believed there was an opportunity to win a major."

Jim Courier, a retired contemporary of Chang, called him "the ultimate hustler, one of the fastest players that ever graced a court".

"If you're able to walk away and have the respect of your fellow players, that means a lot," Chang said.

Chang's last victory was a 6-1, 6-1 triumph over American Zack Fleishman last month at Los Angeles, where his final ATP title came in 2000.

"This whole year has been bittersweet," Chang said. "Obviously you are excited about moving on to other things. But at the same time you love tennis, being out there, hit a shot and scream at the top of your lungs and not hear yourself because of the crowd.

"Those are things I will always carry with me in my heart. I'll hopefully use those things to tell my own kids some bedtime stories. I'm excited about future stuff. But it's going to be tough leaving tennis."

First Published: Aug 27, 2003 09:48 IST