Interview: Michael Chang on Role Models, Family, 2013 Wimbledon Winners

( [email protected] ) Aug 12, 2013 10:06 AM EDT
Former French Tennis Open champion Michael Chang spoke with The Gospel Herald about taking advantage of his international recognition to spread the gospel, his role models in life, his plans for the next ten years, partnering with other Christians for outreach, attributes of a sports player and sportsmanship, and the 2013 Wimbledon Champions Andy Murray and Marion Bartoli.

Michael Chang Depei is the youngest and first American of Chinese descent in tennis history to have won the French Open and Grand Slam championship in 1989. His dramatic defeat of Ivan Lendl, a three-time former French Open champion and the world’s No. 1 at the time, ended the American drought when he became the first American male to win the tournament since 1955. Since then, Chang won 34 singles titles, more than $19 million in prize money and achieved a world No. 2 ranking in 1996. He was known for his returns and was the fastest player in the entire circuit.

Chang has testified throughout his pro-tennis career, often after winning matches, the importance of his Christian faith, albeit detractors. His faith was first brought to the public spotlight during the 1989 French Open championship, when upon winning, he declared “I thank the Lord Jesus Christ, because without Him, I am nothing.” His performances on the court have challenged the notion that Christians can't be champions.

Meanwhile, Chang was recognized for his active involvement in charities. He was named by USA Today in 1995 as “Most Caring Athlete,” and in 1997, he was awarded an Asian-American leadership awards by A Magazine for his status as a role model for Asian-American youth. In 2001, Chang served as a goodwill ambassador for the 2008 Beijing Olympic bid committee. In 2002, he published a book about his career, Holding Serve: Persevering On and Off the Court.

In 2003, Chang retired from tennis and has been active in The Chang Family Foundation that he and his family founded in 1999, whose mission is dedicated to integrating tennis, family, and Christian faith. In our earlier interview, he has been taking classes at Talbot School of Theology in Orange County, Los Angeles, in order to minister with the accurate interpretation of God’s word as he speaks to people groups, universities, businesses, churches, conferences, etc. In 2006, he was invited to preach in Hong Kong at Kowloon City Baptist Church, and over 3,000 people packed the event.

On October 18, 2008, Chang married Amber Liu, another former American professional tennis player who is 12 years younger than Chang. At Stanford University, she was a two-time NCAA singles champion in 2003 and 2004. They have two daughters, Lani, born December 9, 2010, and Maile, born earlier this year.

Amber Liu and Michael Chang.

In 2008, Chang was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. On the heel since this year's Wimbledon in London, Chang spoke with The Gospel Herald via email.

GH: In the past interviews, you’ve mentioned that you wished that you would have taken greater advantage of your platform during the peak of your career to spread the gospel. What would you have done differently looking back from now?

Chang: Looking back now, I think I would have tried to do a few more speaking engagements if possible. Obviously, the tennis tour schedule is already very long and demanding, but I think the platform would have been more effective if I was sharing during the peak of my career. I was able to do it on occasion, but not as much as after I retired.

GH: Who are your role models in your life in sports and faith? Can you give us some examples of the people who have deeply influenced you?

Chang: Obviously, my biggest and greatest role model is the Lord Jesus Christ! He is the person I want to be like the most and I am always thinking of what would be pleasing to Him. Outside of that, my parents have been a wonderful example for me in my life not only as parents but as people. There are so many aspects that I hope I can do just as well as they did especially since my own family is growing and maturing now. I'm so thankful for them!

GH: While retired from pro-tennis, what are you goals and plans within the next ten years?

Chang: The next ten years will probably see a lot of time with Amber and the girls for sure. With my girls at such a young age, I want to be a dad who is around a lot to love them, teach them, encourage them and support them. I have always been told that a strong, dedicated and loving father figure will play a crucial role in how children develop and I want to be there for my children. While career and providing for family is important, I believe it should never be above spending quality time with my family. It's one of the reasons why I choose to not do some things because I know it will mean being away from Amber and the girls. And at the end of the day, they will always be a higher priority. If I can help them develop a super strong foundation in life, that will mean more to me than any career achievement over the next ten years for sure!

Michael Chang and his daughter, Lani, at a tennis coaching session held at a park in Mountain View, Calif., on July 16, 2012.

Michael Chang, his wife Amber Liu, and his two daughters, Lani and Maile, together in a family photo. (Photo: Courtesy of The Chang Foundation)

GH: Have you thought about teaming up with other Christian sports celebrities to evangelize and spread the gospel through various channels?

Chang: I have thought and tried to team up with other Christian athletes to evangelize but it has not been easy. Everyone has busy schedules and different priorities so it's tough. Probably one the best 'teams' I've been on though was going to China with Steven Curtis Chapman, Geoff Moore and Luis Palau. We served together and shared together for a couple of weeks and it was great!

GH: What would you say are the most important attributes that a sports player should have? In another words, what defines great sportsmanship in your viewpoint?

Chang: The most important attributes I think an athlete can have are a passion for what you're doing and a heart that doesn't give up! Most people will say great talent but talent will only take you so far because without a passion to be dedicated and a heart to compete, it's difficult to become the best in the world in any sport. As far as great sportsmanship, humbleness in victory and graciousness in defeat. Both need to be present because everyone wins and loses in sports!

GH: What are your thoughts on the recent Wimbledon competition?

Chang: And as far as this year's Wimbledon, I think it's a great story for both Andy Murray obviously but also for Marion Bartoli. The UK has been waiting a long time for another Wimbledon champion and Marion Bartoli is one of those Cinderella stories where no one expected her to win. She's a very sweet person but works extremely hard and I'm glad she is now a grand slam champion!

GH: Thank you for sharing with our readers. We wish you and your family all the best. God bless you!