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Chang responds to Agassi's claims of tanking matches

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michael_chang_1.jpg1989 French Open Champion Michael Chang spent sometime answering journalists queries on Wednesday ahead of his January trip to Hong Kong to play in an exhibition event featuring fellow greats like Stefan Edberg coupled with modern superstars of the pedigree of Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams.  Chang fended queries from playing mixed doubles with the ladies to Andre Agassi's comments about their 1996 Australian Open semi-final in this interesting tete-a-tete.

How do you feel about playing in Hong Kong again in January?
Michael : I am really excited about it. Obviously every opportunity I get to return to Hong Kong is very exciting for me. I haven't played there for some time , but I've visited. It will be nice to be back on the courts at Victoria Park. I hear they have made some renovations since I was last played there so I am looking forward to seeing that. I am looking forward to playing some great tennis and watching some great tennis as well. Hong Kong is a place that I look forward to going to for many, many reasons, including being able to use the Chinese language and obviously being a part of the culture and the food. For me it's just a really easy transition.

Michael can you share with us some interesting off court experiences of yours?
Michael : Since I retired I've done a lot more with our family foundation (Chang Family Foundation). I've taken a lot more opportunities to do some speaking engagements- speaking at businesses, conferences, universities and churches. It's something I was able to do sporadically when I was playing on tour, but I didn't really have that much of a chance to do it due to the demanding schedule that the tour has. Now I have the opportunity to talk to people more on a personal level. I'm still playing on the Champions Tour and will probably play a handful of events next year as well. That's been a lot of fun to get there and play against the likes of (Stefan) Edberg, (Jim) Courier and (Yevgeny) Kaflelnikov. Amber (Liu) and I got married just over a year ago and that's been a bit of an adjustment getting settled. It's been an unbelievable blessing and we've been having a lot of fun going to a lot of different places and being able to experience a lot of things together. I feel particularly blessed that Amber understands tennis so well; she herself is a very accomplished tennis player, having played 4 years at Stanford University as their No. 1 player. I've been doing a lot of different things as well as some business stuff; I've been very busy and it's been very, very good. I even got the chance to go back to school- I went to grad school for a year and a half and that was a great experience too.

You'll be playing with some of the top women's professionals in Hong Kong, how do you think your standard will compare with the these ladies?
Michael : I know these girls will be training really hard with the Australian Open just around the corner and I would imagine they would be pretty close to being in peak form. I look forward to the opportunity of being able to play a bit of mixed doubles and I'm pretty confident that myself and Stefan (Edberg), Marat (Safin) and Paradorn (Srichaphan) will be able to handle all they can dish out and have some fun at the same time.

In Andre Agassi's autobiography he claims that he deliberately lost the Australian Open semi final in 1996 to avoid playing Boris Becker in the final. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Michael : In my experience when guys have tanked matches, sometimes what happens at least when they play me is that they don't necessarily go into the match thinking "hey I'm going to tank this match" but they start playing the match and the conditions or my style are frustrating and because of that they start wondering if they want to put forward their full effort. On that particular day when we played in Melbourne the conditions were not easy, Andre had a tough quarter final match and it was quite windy. For some reason I was playing very well and getting a lot of balls back and sometimes it's tough if Andre is going for his shots and thinking ‘I've got to hit winners more accurately than I normally have to' and with the wind swirling a bit he's not going to be as accurate as he would normally be in other conditions. Andre is entitled to his own opinion, of course, but I think certain aspects for me and of my mentality, some days you have your best tennis and some days you don't, but all in all you've still got to go out there and give your best. For that day I think maybe after the first set Andre realized it was going to be too much of an uphill battle so maybe it wasn't really worth it for him to put forward the effort.

With the exception of some of the Chinese girls, there don't seem to be many Asian players excelling on the World stage recently. Do you have any thoughts on why that may be occurring?
Michael : I think there have been some sporadic successes, a little bit here and there. I know there are a couple of players from Taiwan that have done decently, breaking into the top 100 and there is a one gentlemen (Kei Nishikori) from Japan that is making his way. Kimiko Date is making her comeback which has been very positive. The Chinese woman have stood out, even more so in the Doubles arena, having won Olympic medals and the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006, along with some good success in singles as well. I think it's encouraging for Asian tennis; obviously I, along with the media there would love to see even more success, particularly on the men's tour and that's what really seems to be the more difficult aspect is have the men break through and challenge the best players in the world. Tennis is relatively new in the Asia Pacific region and I think coaching has played a part in that as it's not that easy for some of these players in China to get the coaching that they need. Nearly all of these Chinese girls that have had success have had coaching from foreign coaches. Hopefully that will change in the coming years. You can work really hard, but if you're not training in the right way you're not going to improve and get to the level that you want to get to.

Would you consider opening a tennis academy in Hong Kong in the future?
Michael : I have had the opportunity to work with some juniors in Hong Kong on numerous occasions, most recently in April last year. Some of the kids were really quite good, which was a pleasant surprise. I have thought about the possibility but the difficulty is the courts. Obviously the situation has changed on my end- being married. But my heart and passion for tennis in China has not changed. I would love to see some of these young talented players break though. That was part of our original reason for wanting to open an academy in China before things fell through. I think it is great that we have events like this one in January where youngsters have the opportunity to see some of the best players in the world compete right in front of them. Not every young child has the opportunity to do that. I think that when they do it will open up their eyes to how some of these players train, their focus and their concentration, some of the strategic aspects of tennis and hopefully they will be able to apply that to their own game and get better.

File Photograph Copyright: Maarten van Maanen