By Pat Mitsch
With the 2015 Emirates Airline US Open Series slated to start next month, former French Open champion and world No. 2 Michael Chang – also the coach of current Top 10 player Kei Nishikori – sat down with EmiratesUSOpenSeries.com to discuss the success of the Series, American tennis and his favorite stops during the summer season.
Series.com: How important is it to have the Emirates Airline US Open Series as a lead up to the US Open for the players?
Chang: Ideally, they are going to want to play a bunch of the US Open Series tournaments. It’s really important preparation, but it’s not just preparation – they’re all big tournaments. You’ve got the two (ATP World Tour) Masters Series tournaments, and you’ve got the other, smaller tournaments, but they’re just so crucial in terms of gaining confidence and helping [the players] really be up and ready to go and fully prepared to have the best possible US Open that they can.
Ideally, you’re going to want to play a good portion of these tournaments so you’re heading into the US Open going, “Hey, I got the matches that I need. I’m playing well. I’m very familiar, now, with the surface and I’m ready to go now to go cap it all off in New York.”
Series.com: Is it encouraging to see that there is a group of young American players all coming up, pushing each other, like your generation did?
Chang: That’s really what I think helped our generation to excel. We had a good group of guys. Andre (Agassi) was actually already out on tour for a couple of years before we joined him, but between myself and Pete (Sampras), Andre, Jim Courier, MaliVai Washington, Todd Martin, David Wheaton, we had a good group of guys there that knew each other for a long, long time through juniors and we were all pushing each other to excel and to get better.
Certainly, if you didn’t train hard and work hard you were at the back of the pack, and nobody wanted to be there. It was easy to gain confidence from one another and say, “Hey, well if this person did so well, why can’t I do just as well?” I’m hoping that’s what’s going to happen. I know the guys are training together and they get along pretty well, and you can expect that kind of camaraderie is going to help them get better as a group, going out on tour and playing against the best players in the world.
Series.com: What are some of your favorite venues or stops during the Emirates Airline US Open Series?
Chang: Cincinnati was always a favorite stop of mine. Cincinnati’s actually one of only four tournaments that I never missed in my career. Then Atlanta was always a great stop. Atlanta, when I was playing, was during the clay-court season, so it’s a little bit different now, being on the hard courts and being at the beginning of the summer. The Canadian Open (Rogers Cup) is a great tournament, always switching back and forth between Montreal and Toronto. It’s really great, I think, for the fans to be able to have the opportunity to see some unbelievable tennis, and some of these venues having both the men and women makes those tournaments even more special.
Series.com: The tennis industry is making it easier and more fun for kids to get into the game—and stay in the game. There are now courts, racquets and balls that are sized right for kids. How important is that to the game of tennis?
Chang: I think it’s crucial. If you’re a child and you’re seeing other kids going out there and having fun, then it’s easier to really embrace something like that. Certainly, for me, if I wasn’t out there playing regular tennis, I was out playing mini tennis. We’d take a piece of chalk and draw our own tennis lines and put a string over the middle and a sheet over that and just play mini tennis, pretending we were playing the Australian Open, Wimbledon, French Open, US Open, and that was a lot of fun. The idea of having 10 and Under Tennis I think is great for kids starting out.
The other thing I think is a really good experience for kids is to be able to see tennis firsthand, to be able to see tennis live. Because then when you’re able to see the crowd being excited, you’re able to see the players out there playing, the ballboys and just the atmosphere. I know when I had the opportunity to watch, I was like, “Wow, how cool would that be to one day be out there playing?” I would encourage parents and families, if you have the opportunity to take your children and your families, to be a part of the US Open or be part of one of the US Open Series tournaments. Go to the website, buy your tickets and take advantage. You don’t get a chance to see this kind of tennis live, in person, very often.