- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 28, 2003

PARIS (AP) — Michael Chang cried at the French Open for the second and last time.

Back in 1989, they were tears of joy after he won the tournament. Yesterday, a tennis lifetime later, they were tears of sadness after he hit his final shot here.

Chang’s farewell to Roland Garros ended with a 7-5, 6-1, 6-1 loss to Fabrice Santoro on the same court where the American claimed his lone major title.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Chang, who will retire at 31 after the U.S. Open. “It’s disappointing to lose in the first round. But it feels good to be able to play my last match on center court.”

Also bidding adieu at the clay-court Grand Slam were No.6 seed Andy Roddick and three-time champion Monica Seles — who might not be back. It looked as if defending champion Albert Costa would lose, too, but he constructed the biggest comeback of his career after being a game from defeat.

Roddick was considered capable of contending. He reached his first major semifinal at the Australian Open and won a clay-court tournament in Austria last weekend.

Instead, he heads home after the first round just like last year, beaten by Sargis Sargsian 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

“It’s weird going from feeling like you’re playing pretty well to not really knowing what you’re doing out there,” Roddick said.

He still has time to learn; this was only his 10th Grand Slam event.

Seles, by contrast, has played 40, winning nine. And she never exited in the first round until yesterday’s 6-4, 6-0 loss against Nadia Petrova.

Seles, 29, plans to take some time off to see if her injured feet heal. If they don’t, she might retire.

“I know I’m in the later stages of my career. I don’t have the luxury of taking five to six months off. At the same time, I don’t want to have surgery,” the tournament’s 12th-seeded woman said.

Could this be her last French Open?

“If I can’t practice the level that I want to, yeah, definitely. And if I can, then for sure not, because this is not the way I would like to leave,” she said.

Other seeded losers included No.13 Elena Dementieva, No.17 Amanda Coetzer and, among men, No.18 Agustin Calleri.

Venus Williams, Lindsay Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Kim Clijsters eliminated overmatched opponents, dropping 13 games total.

Costa dropped that many in the first two sets alone against Sergio Roitman, a slender Argentine with one tour-level match victory — and that came three years ago. Roitman lost in qualifying here, making it into the main draw only when players withdrew. But he played like a star for nearly two hours yesterday. With a laserlike forehand, he won the first two sets and led 4-1 in the third, then was a game from victory at 5-4.

Costa, meanwhile, couldn’t seem to control his shots or his temper. He yelled at himself and his coach (“What a disaster!”) and drew jeers from the crowd when he smashed his racket in the third set.

But Roitman’s right leg — and nerves — began to cramp in the fourth set, and Costa pulled out a 6-7 (3), 2-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 victory — the first time he’s won after losing the first two sets.

No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero, who lost to Costa in the 2002 final, advanced in straight sets, while No.1 Lleyton Hewitt and three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten each dropped a set. Tim Henman, the four-time Wimbledon semifinalist, also won and plays Todd Martin next.

Hewitt wasted four match points before defeating Brian Vahaly of the United States 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (6), 6-3.

Vahaly remembers watching Chang’s run to the French Open title.

“He had incredible intensity,” said Vahaly, who was 10 at the time. “Americans didn’t play well here then, and it was inspiring to see him.”

But Chang no longer has the game that carried him to that championship and three other Grand Slam finals that he lost, including at the 1995 French Open.

“I love getting out there and competing,” said Chang, who was honored in a post-match ceremony. “I just don’t feel that I’m able to sustain it in the way that I have.”

He has won only one ATP Tour match all year, is ranked 142nd and needed a wild-card invitation to get into his 16th straight French Open. He started well but quickly faded against Santoro, a 30-year-old Frenchman on the downside of his career.

“I have so many images in my head from his victory in 1989. It seems so odd to me that he’s leaving,” said Santoro, who ended a seven-match losing streak.

After his last point at Roland Garros, Chang turned to the ballboys and motioned: He wanted the match balls, which he put in his racket bag. The spectators gave Chang a standing ovation for several minutes while he slowly walked to the middle of the court twice to wave goodbye.

How long has he been around? His French Open debut, as a wild-card entry in 1988, ended with a third-round loss to John McEnroe. The next year, Chang became the first U.S. man to win at Roland Garros since Tony Trabert in 1955 and the youngest Grand Slam winner ever.

One reporter wondered how Chang has changed since those heady days.

“I’m actually a bit taller and better looking,” he said. “You got that, right? You’re writing that down?”

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