Tennis Hall of Famer Chang remembers Fallbrook Open win

The Fallbrook Open tennis tournament will celebrate its 42nd birthday during the next two weekends, June 4-5 and June 11-12, with approximately 200 players competing in the United States Tennis Association-sanctioned event at the Fallbrook Tennis Club.

The tournament, which benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of North County, has a very famous alumni – Michael Chang, who won the 1986 Fallbrook Open and three years later, at the age of 17 years and four months, became the youngest male player to win a Grand Slam singles title when he captured the French Open on the courts of Roland Garros in Paris.

Chang, a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, was back at Roland Garros last week as the coach of Kei Nishikori, who advanced through three rounds of the French Open before being beaten by Frenchman Richard Gasquet in the fourth round.

Chang shocked the tennis world in his fourth round match at the 1989 French Open when he defeated the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Ivan Lendl, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in a match that took four hours and 37 minutes. Chang went on to win the French Open title, defeating Sweden’s Stefan Edberg in five sets in the final.

Chang won 34 singles titles during a 15-year career on the professional tour that was loaded with highlights. Yet, Chang still vividly remembers the 1986 Fallbrook Open and spending some time after a match watching the French Open on television.

“I remember watching Ivan Lendl beat Mikael Pernfors in the final of the French Open in the Fallbrook Open clubhouse,” said Chang. “And yes, I never would have guessed that I would be standing there just a few years later across the net from Ivan himself at Roland Garros.”

Chang remembers his key matches in winning the 1986 Fallbrook Open.

“I did have a very ‘big’ win in beating Frank Grannis in the semifinals,” said Chang. “He was very well known in San Diego for his big topspin forehand and as one of the best players to come out of San Diego. Then I beat Bill Behrens in the finals. I had played Bill quite often in many of the junior tournaments in Southern California.”

Chang said he surprised both himself and his father with his victory at the Fallbrook Open.

“I do think my dad was surprised that I won, and I think I was a bit surprised at winning my semifinal match,” said Chang. “Overall, it was a great experience and confidence booster for many wonderful things that would happen later on in my tennis career.”

Chang also enjoyed a new experience at the Fallbrook Open that made his victory extra sweet.

“It was very exciting to win the Fallbrook Open because at the time it was one of the larger tournaments that gave prize money for a young teenager,” said Chang. “That was super cool since I’d never won prize money before.”

Chang’s history with the Fallbrook Open is one that Dorothy Roth, owner of Fallbrook Tennis Club, often cites when trying to recruit players for her tournament.

“I always like to say, ‘Michael Chang won the Fallbrook Open, then was a wild card (entry) in the U.S. Open, and then won the French Open, so if you want to go anywhere in tennis, you’ve got to start right here,'” said Roth, who has been involved in running the tournament for 33 years.

The Fallbrook Open was originally called the Boys & Girls Open since it was a benefit for the Boys & Girls Clubs.

“There were a couple of board members of the Boys & Girls Clubs that were tennis players and wanted to do something for a fundraiser, so they created the tournament,” said Roth. “When I became involved we changed the name because people would see ‘Boys &Girls Open’ and think, ‘oh, it’s a kids tournament,’ and that wasn’t the case.”

Roth said the Fallbrook Open has been sanctioned by the USTA for more than 35 years and features National Tennis Rating Program (NTRP) divisions 5.5, 4.5, 4.0, 3.5 and 2.5, as well as open divisions for men and women singles, doubles and mixed. Roth added there is up to $3,000 in prize money for the open divisions.

Roth recently added family events to the tournament, with parents teaming up with a child for doubles competition. “I thought since it’s for the Boys & Girls Clubs, it’d be a good idea,” said Roth.

The Fallbrook Tennis Club is located at 2141 S. Mission Road, next to the Fallbrook Community Airpark. Roth expects from 1,000 to 2,000 people to visit her facility over the course of the two weekends.

“They come and go,” said Roth. “Some people are here for a short time and some will stay all day. Some people come to watch because it’s good tennis, some come because they know somebody playing, so you have quite a lot.”

Admission to the tournament is free and play begins at around 8 a.m. and continues well into the evening. There will be a food court as well as fund-raising raffles. For more information, visit www.fallbrooktennisclub.com or call (760) 728-1100.

Note: Chang, in addition to coaching Nishikori, also runs the Chang Family Foundation. For more information, visit mchang.com.

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