NEWPORT, R.I. - Michael Chang finds it appropriate he's receiving his sport's highest honor as China awaits the Olympics.
Chang was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame yesterday and reflected on his experiences as a Chinese-American athlete. He won the 1989 French Open at age 17 - the youngest man to win a major - as the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing were escalating into bloodshed.
"For me, at the French Open, if I wasn't playing my match I was glued to CNN watching the events unfold," Chang said during a news conference before his induction. "The crackdown actually happened that Sunday of the French Open."
Inducted posthumously were contributors Mark McCormack and Eugene Scott. Scott, was founder, editor, and publisher during his 30 years at Tennis Week. McCormack was the founder of International Management Group.
Unlike his days on the court, the 36-year-old Chang had the spotlight all to himself yesterday, not having to share the moment with Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Ivan Lendl, or Boris Becker.
"I think any generation that follows our generation - it's tough to compete," he said. "As an athlete, I used my speed, agility, and quickness to go out and play against the big guys."
Chang finished with 34 titles. He was a finalist at the 1995 French Open, 1996 US Open, and 1996 Australian Open. He became the first American to win the French since Tony Trabert in 1955.
"For me, I think the Lord wanted me to win to put a smile on Chinese people's faces," he said.
Now, China hosts the Olympics next month.
"I think it's a very special year for Beijing," Chang said. "I'm really excited for what's going to happen for China. I was acting as an ambassador to help China get the bid."
On The Casino's center court, defending champion Fabrice Santoro advanced to the final of the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships by beating Vince Spadea, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1. The matchup between the 35-year-old Santoro and 33-year-old Spadea was the oldest combined ages in a semifinal on tour since 1993, when 31-year old Brad Gilbert beat 40-year old Jimmy Connors in San Francisco.
Santoro, the second seed and oldest champion on Newport's grass courts in the 32-year history of the tourney, will face Prakash Amritraj today. Amritraj, a wild-card entry, upset seventh-seeded Frank Dancevic, 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 6-3.