Chang steps past Agassi No. 2 seed sweeps into first Open final, to face No. 1 Sampras

September 08, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- No. 2 seed Michael Chang trailed No. 6 Andre Agassi out of the men's locker room and walked behind him through the massive crowd that lined their path, as they made their way to Stadium Court yesterday for the first of two men's semifinals at the U.S. Open. Chang, lugging two athletic bags and moving in Agassi's shadow, seemed more like Agassi's ball boy than his opponent.

It was only after play began that Chang, the self-described underdog, began to assert himself and give the 1994 Open champion his fourth disappointing Grand Slam loss of the year, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

The victory propels Chang into the U.S. Open finals for the first time, where he will meet defending champion and No. 1 seed Pete Sampras.

Sampras, who suffered severe dehydration and a debilitating upset stomach during his match Friday, came back yesterday for a decisive, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (7-9), 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed Goran Ivanisevic.

The United States Tennis Association seeding committee must be partying hard today. When this tournament began two weeks ago, the biggest controversy was over the seeding.

No one appeared to like the fact that the Open, for the first time, had gone away from the world rankings to seed players in this event.

Beneficiaries of the seeding changes were Chang, who moved up from No. 3 in the world to No. 2 seed, Ivanisevic, from No. 6 to No.4 here, and Agassi, from No. 9 to No. 6.

Until yesterday, all the bumped up seeds were still alive and today, sometime after 4 p.m., No. 1 Sampras and No. 2 Chang will play for the title. Seedings don't get much more accurate than that.

And when these two old friends meet on the Stadium Court, they will be playing for more than the right to lift one large silver bowl over their heads in victory.

"I've always measured my year in terms of how I do in these majors," said Sampras, who has won seven Grand Slams, including three U.S. Opens. "Well, this is my last chance to win a major [this year]. The way the year has been going, it hasn't been a bad year, but this is my last chance at a Slam. So, you know, it's crunch time. This is it. I've got to use every ounce of energy I have got and go out and play."

Across the net will be Chang, the 1989 French Open champ, who has made it to a Grand Slam final just two other times before today. He finished runner-up at the French last year, and at the Australian in January.

On the line for the Hoboken, N.J., native is his second Slam title and, perhaps even harder to achieve, the No. 1 world ranking.

"Obviously, it is great to be able to say that you were No. 1 in your profession, whether it is tennis or any other career," Chang said. "It's great to get to this point, to the point where I have the chance to achieve that. But it doesn't change the way I approach the game."

By rights, Chang should be America's favorite player. He is smaller than his opponents, which means his serve isn't big like many of today's players, which means he has to work harder for everything he gets.

He is the classic overachiever.

"My mentality is to go out and work hard, practice and persevere," he said. "I am not a person that is really going to give up. It just makes no sense for me to do that, so getting to the finals of the Australian and the French and here, those are great achievements. If other things come my way, and I get to be No. 1, that would be great, but I don't really get concerned about it."

You would never have known that yesterday, as Chang served 16 aces, including one on match point.

"Maybe Michael was the underdog going into the match," said Agassi. "But it doesn't seem to matter much now. I mean, it's no secret how I beat Michael when I beat him. I find my range, dictate play and make him run until he doesn't feel like doing it anymore. Today, I couldn't hit a backhand confidently up the line. Some of that was the wind and my feet not moving, but you've got to give it to Michael, set, game, match, Chang never let me find my rhythm."

He just let him lead the way.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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