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Return Winners: The 1989 ATP Roland Garros final
Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg battled in an unlikely championship match.
Published Oct 11, 2020
Michael Chang and Stefan Edberg battled for the 1989 French Open title.
With the 1989 Australian Open title already under his belt, world No. 1 Ivan Lendl was an overwhelming favorite to win his fourth French Open championship and take the first two legs of the calendar-year Grand Slam.
Cruising through to the fourth round, Lendl faced Chang, the 15th seed, and won the first two sets comfortably. The 17-year-old American, who grew up playing on hard courts and was at his most comfortable on faster surfaces, was being coached by former pro Jose Higueras to learn the nuances of clay and had been making strides on the surface. Facing Lendl, though, was going to be as true a test as any. Somehow, after losing the first two sets, Chang won the next two—battling both cramps, as well as the world No. 1. Crowding the service line on his returns and throwing in an underhand serve, Chang unnerved Lendl, who finally went down 6-3 in the last set to complete one of the sport’s biggest upsets.
From there, Chang overcame his next two opponents quite comfortably by comparison to reach the final against Edberg. The third seed, who had long bucked the tradition of being a Swedish baseliner like French Open winners Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander, serve and volleyed his way to his first final in Paris. The reigning Wimbledon champ only lost one set through his first five matches before overcoming Boris Becker, another serve and volleyer and past Wimbledon winner, in five sets in the semifinals.
Though Chang had only been a professional for a year, he already had faced Edberg on several occasions, including a win against the three-time major winner in Indian Wells earlier in the year in their most recent match. In the first set of the final, Chang executed the strategy of putting pressure on Edberg’s serve and groundstrokes perfectly as he raced through the opener 6-1.
With much more experience playing in the conditions of a Grand Slam championship match, Edberg still kept attacking on the slow red clay to win the next two sets. In the fourth set, the third seed had numerous opportunities to break Chang’s serve and truly put the title within his reach, but each time, the American fought him off with perfect passing shots. As Edberg served to extend the fourth at 4-5, Chang broke to level the match.
In the final set, up 5-2, Chang clinched the title behind consecutive forehand misses from Edberg and in the process, became the first American man to win at Roland Garros since Tony Trabert in 1955. At 17 years, 3 months, Chang broke the record set by Becker in 1985 as the youngest male Grand Slam winner in the Open Era.
This was Chang’s second career title, the first coming at the indoor event on carpet in San Francisco in September 1988. His record in finals moved to 2-0.
Chang was the fourth American man to reach a French Open final in the Open Era, after Harold Solomon, Brian Gottfried and John McEnroe.
Edberg lost his sixth match in 10 finals against American men.