Chang longingly eyes title Endurance champ takes 4:17 to reach Open semifinals

September 11, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Welcome to the U.S. slow-motion Open.

Long lines. Longer matches. Lots of standing around and waiting for millionaire tennis players to towel off, pace, bounce the ball and serve.

But every once in awhile they serve up a terrific match filled with passion and pathos.

Last night, Michael Chang needed five sets and 4 hours and 17 minutes to finish off a 20-year-old freckle-faced South African who looks like Doogie Howser and hits backhands like the Terminator.

No. 4 Chang outlasted Wayne Ferreira, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-1, to reach tomorrow's semifinals.

He will meet the winner of the Stefan Edberg-Ivan Lendl match, which was suspended by rain early this morning and was to resume today with the players on serve in the fifth set. Edberg, the second seed, was leading 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 2-1, but momentum had shifted to ninth seed Lendl, who fought off four match points in the fourth set.

Of course, waiting in the wings are two other young Americans already in the men's final four. After bashing Andre Agassi in four sets Wednesday night, No. 1 Jim Courier will meet No. 3 Pete Sampras in the semifinals.

But the talk of this year's Open hasn't been all tennis. Mostly, it's about time. This is the land of the $7 flute of champagne and the five-hour tennis match.

And nobody likes to play longer than Chang, who routinely begins warming up at the four-hour mark. If he doesn't go five sets, it's like he was robbed of court time.

Chang, the 1989 French Open champion who added power to his patient baseline game, found his match in Ferreira, a relative unknown in America, but a semifinalist at this year's Australian Open. Ferreira is often his own worst enemy, compiling 104 unforced errors against Chang. But he is also a serve-and-volley player of tremendous potential, needing only patience to harness his talents.

Ferreira also showed some guts, pulling his left quadriceps muscle in the fourth set, yet remaining in the match, hobbling between points, then banging out ground stroke after ground stroke.

"I've played through a lot of pain worse than that," Ferreira said. "I got it taped up and it took the pressure off."

Chang, however, showed no mercy. Despite losing the fourth-set tiebreaker, he roared back in the fifth set, getting up a break and applying the pressure right to the end.

"It's difficult to teach playing that way," Chang said. "Against an injured player, it's easy to say, 'Just focus. just stick with the game plan.'It's tough to get it out of your head."

For nearly two weeks Chang has been the most unflappable of seeded players. He has driven stealth-like through the draw, ignoring every slight thrown at him. Fans are ignoring him. The press, too. Even the constant schedule changes haven't bothered Chang, now 20, and considered among the more thoughtful players on the pro tour.

A band of rain showers and the wishful thinking of U.S. Tennis Association organizers played havoc with Chang's court time yesterday. Scheduled to play on the stadium court, he was shoved over to the Grandstand when a men's doubles match stretched nearly six hours. And no wonder.

They were staging a rematch of the Wimbledon men's doubles '' final that dragged across two days. But this time, Jim Grabb and Richey Reneberg got their revenge, beating Wimbledon champs John McEnroe and Michael Stich, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6 (7-2), 4-6, 6-2.

"I had no problems with being on the Grandstand court," Chang said. "The other night, when I played MaliVai Washington, they asked us if we wanted to play on the stadium and wait for Lendl and Boris Becker to finish. We decided to just play in the Grandstand. Had we waited, we would have finished up at three in the morning."

Yesterday, Chang got on court around dinner time and barely had a chance to get a midnight supper. But that's the way he likes to play his tennis. The longer the point -- and the match -- the better.

Chang has now won two straight five setters and he is expecting another long match tomorrow .

"Getting past the round of 16 was an accomplishment," Chang said. "To get to the semifinals was even better."

Now, after a flash-in-the-pan triumph at the French Open, a year of injuries, and a year on the rise, Chang is aiming for another Grand Slam.

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