Michael Chang, who won the French Open at 17, tells The Tennis Space ‘How to be a teenage tennis star’.
Learn how to deal with pressure and how to fight: “Every ambitious young player is working on their game, but the best thing that a teenager can do is to go out there and learn how to compete and how to win. You have to go out there and play against your peers, against the opponents you don’t want to play, against the players who make you uncomfortable. As that puts pressure on you, and if you learn how to play when you’re under pressure, you’re halfway there. That’s the problem we have in America right now, that juniors don’t want to play against each other because they don’t want to lose. But that means that they’re playing tennis without being under pressure. But you need to learn about the pressure from your opponent, and the pressure of expectation – the pressure from yourself, from being watched by spectators and by a television audience, from the press, from the people travelling with you, and from your friends and family, from the country. If you’re playing tennis without pressure, you’re doing youself a disservice. The more you’re exposed to pressure, the better it will be.”
So play against your peers as much as possible: “I was blessed that I was part of such a talented generation in the States, which included Agassi, Sampras and Courier. We were always playing against one another in junior tournaments, and no one wanted to be back at the back of the pack. You knew that you had to work hard otherwise you would be at the back. So we learnt to work hard, to deal with pressure and to fight. Of course, the pressure you feel in the juniors is different to the pressure of being at senior grand slams. But all of us had learnt in the juniors how to win, and we all won senior grand slams at a young age.”
Surround yourself with good people. “You need to be able to keep some perspective. There will be a lot of people with a lot of opinions. When you’re winning, everyone will want to be your friend. But when you’re losing and having a tough time, that’s when you’ll discover who really cares and who has your best interests at heart. So you need a good group around you. No tennis champion ever did anything on his or her own. Nobody. It’s impossible. Federer hasn’t, Nadal hasn’t, Djokovic hasn’t, Murray hasn’t. They’ve all got a good team around them. You need people who will make you feel positive, and who will encourage you. That’s the way to grow.”