When Michael Chang showed up in these parts for the Legg Mason Tennis Classic last summer, he was carrying a creditable match record (33-10) but coming off a bad European tour, with early-round losses at Wimbledon and the French Open. As he recalls, "I was really short of matches, having played only five or so in two months."
Maybe rust is this guy's best color.
Following victory at the 28-year-old tournament in Washington's Rock Creek Park, Chang won the next week in Los Angeles, lost in the final of the ATP Championships in Cincinnati and, at the U.S. Open, lost to Pete Sampras in the final.
The summer blitz boosted him from No. 6 in the world rankings to No. 2 and, if he had beaten Sampras in the showdown at Flushing Meadow, he would have achieved No. 1. Not bad for a 5-foot-9, 150-pound "retriever" in these days of slam-bam power tennis.
"I've always liked this tournament," says Chang of the Legg Mason stop, which starts tomorrow at the FitzGerald Tennis Center at 16th and Kennedy Streets. "One thing, it gets you used to the weather you're going to run into on the summer circuit. If you can get through D.C., it's almost certain you're not going to find anything tougher. Last year, I felt good immediately, got comfortable and it started me off on a great run."
Chang lost just one of 11 sets here, and immediately made up for it by demolishing Vince Spadea, 6-0, in the third set. He then posted quarterfinal and semifinal victories about three hours apart on Saturday before beating Wayne Ferreira, 6-2, 6-4, in a Sunday afternoon final.
"That sounds like it was a tough grind, but it wasn't that bad," he said. Another deception, Chang noted, is the quality of the field he faces this week. For example, Andre Agassi is entered, and he is way down on the computer rankings.
"Come on, Andre is No. 30? Rankings often are deceiving. He has slipped because he has been injured and inactive. But everyone knows his talent and capability, and he's always a guy you take into account where he is in the draw. His game comes back awfully quickly."
Same as Chang, even when he slips into his seemingly annual spring lull. "It's pretty much the same early scenario for me this year as it was last," said Chang. "I got off to a good start [with wins in Memphis, Indian Wells, Hong Kong and Orlando and a 28-3 match mark through April], then lost in the first round at Atlanta and in Rome [Italian Open].
"But I played some good, tough matches in Paris [before losing in the fourth round] and made my first semifinal on grass in Rosmalen [Netherlands]. Then I lost in the first round at Queens [England] and Wimbledon."
One thing riding this roller coaster has done for Chang is it finds him "refreshed" as he heads into two months on the hard courts, his favorite surface.
"I'm anxious to get going again," he said. "Got a chance to do some fishing when I got back early from Europe, but got only two striped bass at home [Henderson, Nev.] and just one salmon up in Seattle. Hopefully, my tennis will prove better than my fishing."
Facts and figures
What: Legg Mason Tennis Classic
Where: FitzGerald Tennis Center, Rock Creek Park, Washington
When: Tomorrow through next Sunday. Sessions daily beginning at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.
Field: Defending champion Michael Chang (1) and Andre Agassi (2) lead the 56-man draw.
Tickets: Call 703-276-4274 or TicketMaster at 410-481-SEAT.
Directions: Take I-95 south to I-495 west (Capital Beltway). Take southbound exit onto Georgia Avenue. Veer right on 16th Street to Kennedy Street and park on right.
Pub Date: 7/13/97