I already wrote about the 4-year Courier-Agassi Wars of 1989-1992. There was another memorable clash of US players in 1991. Jimmy Connors took on 1989 Roland Garros champion Michael Chang. On paper, this didn’t look like much of a match. Jimmy Connors did win the 1976 US Open on Har-Tru/green clay, but it was 1991 and Connors was 38-years-old. Michael Chang had won 13 of his previous 14 Roland Garros matches and was 19-years-old. Yet, the match went into a 5th set prior to Jimmy Connors’ retiring due to a loss of conditioning. Chang won 4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 0-15 in their only career meeting. Connors hit a return winner to start the fifth set and then ended his efforts.
I remember watching this match when it unfolded. I recently rewatched parts of it (brushing up on my non-existent French language skills as well). A few things struck me:
- Chang’s youth and speed ultimately told the tale
- Connors’ return was the most dominant factor in the 4 sets played. Connors often started return rallies in an advantageous position and started in a neutral position on most of his service points. The longer a given point went the more things shifted in Chang’s favor.
- Connors backhand was in vintage form as well. The contrast between Chang’s topspin strokes and Connors’ flat and underspin shots was as stark as the difference in their ages.
- Connors led 6-4, 1-1 and had a break point in a long deuce game. He missed an overhead into the net. That may have closed his most realistic shot at winning the match. Connors and Chang exchanged service breaks to start to 2nd set. Had Connors played from ahead in the second set and taken a 2 set lead, the crowd and his exemplary return of serve might have won the match in 4 sets. I doubt he could have run through 3-straight sets on clay versus a man half his age. Still, a 2 set lead, a set to regroup, and a crowd bearing down on Chang in the 4th set might have led to the improbable win. Instead, Chang gutted out a tight 2nd set and raced through the 3rd set. That lead was too much for Connors to overcome, but he did level the match with the last of his health that day.
ETC. This match led to Jimmy Connors becoming the pitchman for Nuprin