Thirty years ago this month, a 17-year-old with boundless energy and skill to match was soaring up the ATP rankings in a hurry. He’d climbed from the Top 500 to the Top 100 in less than a year. Michael ‘Te-Pei’ Chang was a kid from Southern California by way of Hoboken, an upstart who suddenly found himself opposite many of the game’s premier players – Ivan Lendl, Stefan Edberg, and a young Pete Sampras among them – in a talented draw at the year’s second major, the French Open.
That’s quite a different stage than the USTA Southern California Junior Sectionals. Yet for a teenage Chang, his Boys 18s victory at the 1987 Sectionals came only two short years before the #15 seeded youngster toppled Pete Sampras in the second round at Roland Garros, dropping only three games in a nearly clean sweep.
That was only the beginning.
Michael Chang was, by all accounts, a junior tennis phenom. In describing Chang’s ascent, the term “youngest ever to…” was standard. He won Boys 10s Sectionals in 1981, and Boys 12s in 1983 and 1984. He won the UTSA Junior Hardcourt singles title at age 12, then won 18s Nationals as a 15-year-old. He was the youngest ever to win a main draw match at the US Open.
When he edged Charles Adams in a third set Sectionals tiebreaker in ’87, he could never have dreamed that a short 24 months later, he’d be down two sets to the great Ivan Lendl, cramping and struggling and trying to stay alive in an internationally televised battle on center court at a Grand Slam. Famously serving underhand to the top ranked Czech, Chang rallied past the three-time French titlist in a grueling five-set marathon as the world took notice of this special talent.
Fresh out of Encinitas since turning pro, Chang later faced former Olympic champion Stefan Edberg in the French final, again emerging from an arduous battle as the winner. In doing so, he became the youngest player ever to win a Grand Slam title, and the youngest to rank in the ATP World Top 5.
Chang would reach the final of the US Open and Australian Open, though the French would be his lone Grand Slam victory. With 34 career titles, Chang rose as high as #2 in the rankings and helped Team USA earn a Davis Cup title in 1990. In 2008, Michael Chang was elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Worth noting is Chang’s induction into the Southern California Tennis Hall of Fame in 2013. The honor perhaps brought him full circle – before the French, before Lendl, before the Olympics and the Davis Cup and Newport and Nishikori, Michael Chang was the Southern California Junior Sectionals champion.