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Throwback Thursday: 15-Year-Old Michael Chang at the U.S. Open

28 years ago this week, 15-year-old Michael Chang won his opening-round match at the U.S. Open.

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

Twenty-eight years ago this week, on September 1st, 1987, Michael Chang became the youngest man to win a Slam match during tennis' Open era.

But 'man' probably isn't the correct word in this instance. Because Chang — whose name is synonymous with 'youngest ever' records in tennis — was a mere 15 years, 6 months, and 10 days old when he defeated Paul McNamee on the opening day of the U.S. Open in '87.


Chang was born in New Jersey to Taiwanese émigrés Betty and Joe. His father was a recreational tennis player, and began coaching his son at a young age.

The family subsequently moved to Minnesota, where Michael and his elder brother Carl both showed an affinity for tennis (Carl quit playing the sport in his early 20s to become Michael's coach). They then relocated to California when Michael was seven to improve both boys' prospects in the sport; Betty also quit her job to travel with them on tour.

Their dedication quickly paid off. Chang won a slew of junior events, often playing against boys much older than himself. By his early teens he was taking on and beating grown men.

He was soon playing with pros. And, at the 1987 U.S. Open, the 15-year-old Chang got his first opportunity to impress at a Slam tournament. The youngster received an automatic wildcard entry to the main draw for winning the Boys 18s tournament. Typically, this had required beating players a few years ahead of him in the age stakes.

His first-round opponent was Paul McNamee, a 32-year-old Australian whose CV included the men's doubles title at Wimbledon in 1982. At 32 he was the second-oldest player in that year's U.S. tournament, as well as more than twice Chang's age. By 1987 McNamee was ranked 130th in the world, though he had been risen as high as 24th earlier in his career. Chang entered the game ranked 970th.


But he secured victory over the older player in four sets, beating McNamee 6-3, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4. That prompted the press — ever the reasonable, expectation-managing bunch — to label Chang the future of American tennis.

After the game the hereto unknown teenager was mobbed by reporters keen to grab the first quote. Understandably, Chang was somewhat overwhelmed.

"I don`t know about the future of American tennis," he said, responding to their bold title. "I`m just out there playing."

His mother Betty accompanied him for post-match interviews and was also keen to play down expectations.

"He's just a little boy and we'd like to keep him that way," Betty told the press. "We don't want to trouble him with adult things. There's no rush, as long as he's happy playing tennis."

"I still think about doing something else," Michael added. "There's a lot of years ahead of me, and what if tennis doesn't work out for me?"

Ultimately Chang did not end up having to find another career, but nor did he hit the heights expected of him after that early win. He continued his rise in 1988 by making progress at the U.S., the French, and at Wimbledon. A year later he famously won the French Open and set his most significant record, becoming the youngest male player to win a Grand Slam singles title at just 17.

But, at least in terms of Slams, that was it for Chang. Over the next 14 years he played in three more finals, losing out at the French in 1995 and both THE Australian and U.S. Opens in '96. He reached two semi-finals in 1997, but after that — still in his mid-20s — he failed to advance past the third round at a major tournament.

That is not to call Chang's career a failure — after all, he won a Slam, plus several Masters Series titles. But from a player once seen as the future of American tennis, and a champion at 17, it represents a meagre long-term return.

Chang retired from professional tennis in 2003. He is now coach to the current world number four, Kei Nishikori of Japan, who reached the final of last year's U.S. Open. At 25, Nishikori is reaching his peak; at the same age, Chang had already played his best tennis.