NEW YORK -- It was a tennis epic that ended with a lob.
For 4 hours, 33 minutes, Michael Chang and John McEnroe slugged it out in the second round of the U.S. Open. They began the match last night at a packed Louis Armstrong Stadium, and they finished it this morning at 1:27 in front of thousands who were standing and screaming.
Chang hit the final shot, a bending backhand topspin lob that froze McEnroe at the net. The ball fell out of the sky and landed a foot inside the baseline and brought Chang a magnificent victory, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (7-1), 2-6, 6-3.
"I decided I was out here to win the match, not for him to lose it," Chang said.
The extraordinary match brought together the past and present of American tennis on a hot, humid evening. McEnroe, 32, in the twilight of a career that burned brightly in the mid-1980s, against Chang, 19, the analytical stylist who won the 1989 French Open championship.
"It's hard to talk about a match when you lose," said McEnroe, the No. 16 seed. "I gave my best. I had my chances."
Entering the match, Chang had taken only one set in four previous losses to McEnroe. But this is a strange U.S. Open. Wasn't it only Tuesday night and Wednesday morning that 38-year-old Jimmy Connors outlasted McEnroe's youngest brother Patrick in a five-set comeback for the ages?
"I had my chances to win," Chang said. "I had to take advantage of them. It's nice to be able to come through that match. It was difficult at the end. The crowd was helping John quite a bit."
The crowd was with McEnroe. He had won four Open titles here, transforming himself over the years from surly bad boy to prodigal son. He returned the past two years searching for the magic that had made him a legend.
"You don't want so many thousands of people screaming against you," Chang said. "It was like a Davis Cup match. In the end, you try to block it out. No one would really understand how much pressure and stress there is. In this match, there was even a little bit more."
Chang won the first set, roaring from 2-40, 30-40 down by wiping out McEnroe on three straight service games.
McEnroe came back in the second set, getting the pivotal break in the 10th and final game when Chang double-faulted.
The third set went to a tie-breaker, and Chang muscled up. He dropped in two aces and put away McEnroe with a cross-court backhand.
McEnroe stood composed throughout the fourth set and played some of his best tennis of the Open. He throttled Chang with a cross-court forehand in the opening game and came back with another break to 5-2 after a gorgeous exchange of volleys. He then served out the set with an ace.
"John is a good player," Chang said. "With the crowd behind him, he becomes even a better player."
But Chang played superbly in the fifth set, the crowd against him, McEnroe pressing him on every point. Chang got the crucial break to go up 4-2 when he slammed a forehand return to McEnroe's feet, and then he held serve to lead, 5-2.
But McEnroe wouldn't go easily. He stared down two match points on serve in the eighth game and then battered Chang to open the ninth game. Twice, McEnroe got to break points and twice Chang served aces.
Finally, with the crowd standing and McEnroe frozen at the net, ** Chang delivered the final topspin lob to end the match.
L "I don't ace very much, but they came in handy," Chang said.
Chang will need his strong serve again in the round of 16 when he faces Stefan Edberg.
"I've had very close matches with him," Chang said. "It's always difficult playing Stefan. He is getting better and better on the big points. It's going to be a difficult match."
But can Chang seize this moment and go on and win the U.S. Open?
"That's not something I'm thinking about at the moment," he said. "This was a tough match. A very tough match."