Michael Chang: It takes confidence and belief to become a great player
As new coach of World No. 17 Kei Nishikori, former Roland Garros champion Michael Chang accompanies the Japanese star to Barcelona. Between two training sessions, Chang took the time to talk to us at the Real Club de Tenis Barcelona.
You are here with your wife and two kids…
Yes, I’m trying to take my family wherever I can. I travel too much around the world. I don’t want to be away from them and have the luxury to be with them.
Is touring as coach very different?
It’s a little less stressful, more relaxing, definitely. Especially with the family. But I don’t do it full-time. I will go home to California (Orange County) after Barcelona and will join them again one week before Roland Garros. I will not go to Madrid or Rome. I’m traveling to most of the majors and some selected tournaments and told Kei I wanted to bring my family. And he said that’s ok.
Now you’re back as coach of Kei Nishikori. What made you decide to return to the tour?
I played an exhibition with Kei in Japan a couple of years ago and saw him again at the French Open last year. They contacted me at the US Open last year and asked me if I wanted to do it. If it was anybody else I wouldn’t have taken a position like this.
What makes Kei so special?
We have a lot of things in common. If I look at the history of men’s tennis there really haven’t been a whole lot of Asians that have done well. It has been a handful and Kei is one of them. He is on the verge of breaking through and the most successful Japanese player in history. Our mentality is also similar.
How can you help him?
A lot of it is experience I guess. I have performed well on clay, especially against the big players and I want to pass this on to him. I think he’s done really well last year on clay and we hope to play better this year. He has the potential to crack the Top 10 anytime soon, he just showed that in Miami some weeks ago, beating big guys like Ferrer and Federer. These wins are important and give you a lot of confidence.
You won Roland Garros when you were 17. Nowadays players don’t have a breakthrough at that age anymore. What do you think has changed?
I think the tour is more physically demanding now. A young teenager is not going to have the physical strength to play the top guys these days, especially because of the advanced technology. Im not saying it cant be done, but is certainly more difficult, but the training has improved and its become very tough. Rackets and strings have changed, it’s harder to generate the pace on the ball. For example, the old guys on the Champions Tour now are hitting harder serves with their new rackets than they used to when they were pros. The pace is so much faster now, that’s why the teenagers have so much trouble.
Rafa has been dominating tennis on clay over many years. Why?
Part of it is your ability, you obviously need to hit the shots, but a lot of it is confidence and belief. If you don’t believe that you’re going to do it then it’s just not going to happen. Ability and mentality need to go hand in hand. That’s what I’m working on with Kei as well. Have the belief to go out there and beat the best.
You would be a mix of Nadal and Ferrer. What makes you think that?
Part of it is work ethic. I know both guys work really really hard. David fights like crazy and Rafa plays with a great amount of intensity and has the desire to be the best, which is incredible. I played a similar style to Ferrer but with a similar intensity to Rafa. For me it’s a cross between both and they are both impressive players.
Why did you never play in Barcelona?
Yes, I actually did, at the Summer Olympics in 1992. But I ate a bad sandwich before my second match and couldn’t play. It was a petty because the tournament was played on clay and I was doing very well on the surface back then.