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Sunday Punch

Remember Chang for more than French Open

By HUBERT MIZELL
Published May 25, 2003

His legs are stubby but machine-gun quick. On a tennis court they pump like tanned pistons. His 31-year-old heart is strong and pure, the mind so bright, clear and disciplined.

Michael Chang, a handsome Chinese-American with a $35-million tennis career, isn't the player he used to be. Now, in a city that's hard to dislike, Chang is poised for one last Paris fling, his au revoir to the French Open, sure to be classy if painfully brief.

At 17 the kid from Washington state was a Roland Garros boy wonder, the acrobatic archduke of red clay, winning at a Grand Slam venue where the mightiest collector of major championships, Pete Sampras, never would.

Chang, in the 14 years since, has ruled no tournament so imposing, while hustling to 32 trophies on the global tour, having success in Los Angeles, Washington and San Francisco as well as exotic venues like Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Toronto, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.

In 1996 he ranked No. 2 in the world, behind only Sampras, but the 21st century has brought an agonizing fade with Chang consistently being erased in early rounds. His skills have eroded. His speed is less blurring. It's time to go; something else Michael will do with style.

Chang is plenty rich to afford his own jet, but he flies commercial. Showoff he's not. Michael drives no Ferrari, lives in no mansion. Eschews yachts for fishing boats. Anything but greedy, M.C. signs autographs for free, including the phrase, "Jesus Loves You."

After this final tour year Chang says he might become a marine biologist. Both parents are research chemists. Beyond this concluding Paris run we won't hear much about Michael, but it's a good life so rich in sharing, style and kindness, he'll do much good on the quiet.

Always the cerebral young man from Mercer Island, Wash., has carried himself with dignity and strong religious conviction, expending maximum athletic effort. Too often in sports the loudest can get the most attention while those more heroic can go quietly and undercelebrated.

Matter not Chang's final French Open result, there is cause for good, long hurrahs, perhaps to be shouted at the Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower and, above all, at Roland Garros.

Sampras won't be there. Pete is passing too on Wimbledon, where he has long reigned. Michael is saying goodbye, but can it be that Sampras at 31 will suddenly be just gone, for good?

QUESTIONS: Is this what "frivolous lawsuit" means, as NBA veteran Kenny Anderson of the New Orleans Hornets sues a former girlfriend for dying her hair blond to satisfy a sexual fantasy? His or hers? ... Does it make me a bad fellow to say I'm generally uncharmed by the comic attempts of ESPN anchors Kenny Mayne and Stuart Scott? ... Speaking of Bristol, how long before the network sees Around the Horn is an overbearing yapfest failure? ... If there really is a nucleus of Tampa Bay baseball lovers, will Trop crowds gently grow as Rocco Baldelli, Aubrey Huff and an underfinanced team's intriguing roster consistently play hard and deliver games that, to me, are quite amusing?

MORE: Is there any explanation, with Duke University being such a blue-chip steppingstone to the pros with 33 players drafted since 1966, that not one has an NBA championship ring? ... Is there any Bucs fact more stunning, including winning a Super Bowl, than having 80,000 on a 2003 season-ticket waiting list for a franchise that 10 years ago could not have presold the stadium by offering a four-for-the-price-of-one-plus-free-pizza special?

SNAPPY ART: Mike Gruttadauria's football talents have long been evident, back to Tarpon Springs High, but the Arizona Cardinals center, starter in Super Bowl XXXIV for the St. Louis Rams, offers artistry far beyond well-sculpted Sunday blocks.

His mom is an accomplished painter and pianist, Mike's grandfather was an artist and the 300-pound NFL hulk, according to renowned sculptor Keith Christopher, "is already doing master-level work. I have never seen anybody become so good so fast."

Gruttadauria played just one season of football for the Spongers but earned a scholarship to Central Florida. "Football gives me a chance to explore my primal side," he told the magazine The Shield. "Art allows me to explore my more refined side."

But the ultimate test is, can he help mold the feeble Cards into contenders? Is a spot in the Louvre more attainable for Gruttadauria, a center with strong but gentle and creative hands?

Whatever happened to Dr. Tom Davis?

[Last modified May 25, 2003, 01:30:37]


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