- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

It was just like old times for Michael Chang.

Chang, a two-time Legg Mason Tennis Classic champion, hasn't played with much success the last two-and-a-half years, but he returned to the District with a 7-6 (7), 6-1 victory over Byron Black in the tournament's first round last night at William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center.

Chang has not reached the quarterfinals of a tour-nament this year but is back at the tournament he won in 1996 and 1997, when he finished the year ranked second and third, respectively, on the ATP tour.

After he disposed of Black, Chang received a standing ovation from those in the lower-level seats at the stadium court, and the applause grew louder as he walked off the court.

"It's been a tough year for me I'm not playing as well as I was five years ago," Chang said. "But coming back to a place like D.C. feels good."

Chang was hampered by injuries in 1998, when he finished out of the top 20 for the first time in a decade, and has struggled to regain his form since. He won five titles in 1997 but has won just one in the last two-plus years.

Considering the caliber of both players among active players, Chang has the third-most career titles (34) behind Pete Sampras (63) and Andre Agassi (49); Black finished last year ranked No. 35 a Black-Chang matchup would seem more likely to occur later in a tournament. But there they were last night, hacking their way through the damp conditions at the Legg Mason.

With neither player venturing to the net often, points were decided by the player's ability to place shots deep in the court and move his opponent laterally.

Neither player had so much as a sniff of a break in

the first set there were no break points and not even so much as a deuce game among the first 12. So when Chang dropped a point on his serve early in the tiebreaker, it seemed likely Black would hold on to take the first set.

But with a set point at 6-4, Black committed three consecutive unforced errors to let Chang off the hook. At 7-7, Chang ripped a backhand up the line to lead 8-7. He had several opportunities to close out Black during the 16th point, but the Zimbabwean refused to succumb. Finally a Black shot went wide, and Chang pumped his fist and yelled, exulting in a first-set 9-7 tiebreak victory.

"It's important," Chang said of the excitement he showed. "I've always played with a certain amount of intensity… . I knew it was an important set, and it set the tone for the rest of the match."

His emotion seemed to carry into the next set, where Chang broke Black in the first game. Black never could get an opportunity to break his opponent, and after a Chang volley winner broke Black for a 4-1 lead, the result was nearly complete. For good measure, Chang broke Black's serve again to end the match.

"I was playing pretty loose until 6-4 [in the tiebreak]," Black said. "But that's where Michael's tough he really puts pressure on you. I think I panicked a little bit, went for a bit too much, and made a few errors. That was the difference, really."

Chang, meanwhile, is hoping to put together a run at the Legg Mason and regain some of the form he displayed as one of the tour's top players throughout the 1990s.

"I'm trying to find my way back," Chang said.

Black got several good swings on Chang's second serves, which, despite their topspin, were easy targets for winners.

In the first match played on the stadium court yesterday, Cecil Mamiit defeated Justin Gimelstob 6-3, 6-2 on the stadium court. Gimelstob had defeated his former collegiate rival Gimelstob was an all-American at UCLA, and Mamiit attended USC in their two previous meetings, but Mamiit won handily yesterday.

"The court was really slow, and those are tough conditions for me," Gimelstob said. "I knew it would be a tough match."

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