Photo: AP/Christof Stache
Welcome to a brand-new content series on the official National Bank Open presented by Rogers website. Our events in Toronto and Montreal have hosted the world’s best players year after year, with some of the biggest names having claimed the title.
In our Champions’ Locker Room series, we’ll interview some of the past winners of our tournaments about their memories of their run to the trophy in Canada. This series is available to National Bank Open Insider subscribers one week early – so, to be among the first to read it, sign up to our newsletter now.
Ask Michael Chang what his standout memories are of the 1990 National Bank Open presented by Rogers and you will quickly notice a theme developing: heat. Temperatures in Toronto during that year’s tournament regularly hit 30 degrees Celsius, and it made for tough conditions on the court.
Fresh from making history in becoming the youngest male player in history to win a Grand Slam – Chang won the 1989 French Open title at just 17 years and 109 days old – the American entered the next decade’s first National Bank Open as the seventh seed.
He had the advantage of a first-round bye, before beating qualifier Broderick Dyke of Australia 6-2, 6-3 in the second round and ninth seed David Wheaton of the United States 6-0, 6-3 in the third. Next up was a clash against No. 1 seed and fellow American Andre Agassi in the quarter-finals. But Chang wasn’t just battling his compatriot – who had yet to win his first Grand Slam but was already clearly on his path to stardom – he was also battling the blazing sun.
“I struggled a little bit with the heat when I played Andre,” Chang recalled. “And I just remember he was making a joke about it after our match because I was cramping. I was able to pull the match out but he was joking saying that if we’d have been out there another ten minutes, we’d have had to call the paramedic to take me out. So, I remember the heat being a factor.”
Eventually, Chang came out on top thanks to a hard-fought 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory which set up a semi-final meeting with fifth-seeded Pete Sampras. Just a few weeks out from Sampras’ US Open win – his first Grand Slam title – this was another match to savour. Impressively, Chang can still recall a particular point from their contest, which sticks fondly in his mind.
“At that time, he [Sampras] still had a pretty pattern serve and there were a couple of places he didn’t feel as comfortable,” Chang said. “So, I think coming from juniors and training with him, I knew his game pretty well. I remember one specific point I was trekking down a ball and I threw up a lob that was kind of in the middle of the court. He was ready to smash it away and I guessed one way and just happened to block it in for a winner.”
Chang would go on to beat Sampras 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 before seeing off the challenge of another American – this time No. 4 seeded Jay Berger – 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 in the final. It would be his first and only National Bank Open title win – though, he still remembers his time playing in Canada fondly. Almost a home away from home if you will, especially thanks to the familiar hard-court surface.
“In Toronto, it’s pretty easy,” he explained. “It didn’t feel like I was very far away from home and it was a tournament everyone looked forward to because it’s a big event and it was really exciting for me to do so well there. Hard court is the surface that really suited me best actually because I grew up playing on hard courts very similar to what was being played in Toronto.”
Fast forward to the present day and Chang is part of 31-year-old Kei Nishikori’s coaching team. The 2014 US Open runner up was a finalist at the National Bank Open in 2016, though Chang wasn’t present for that particular run. Looking ahead, following some time out due to injury, Michael is confident there are good times in store for the Japanese player.
“It’s a pleasure to work with Kei,” Chang commented. “We did a little training block on the clay not too long ago, before he played in Barcelona. So, he’s on his way back and he’s healthy which is one of the biggest things for him. When he’s healthy and playing well, he can beat the best of them. It’s been a little while, so it’s good to get back out there on tour after having surgery, but he’s putting up some good results. I’m excited for him for the rest of the year.”