Chang made to fight all the way by Dreekmann
Defending champion Michael Chang insisted it was too early to think about a hat-trick of titles as he joined top-seeded Pete Sampras in the quarter-finals of the Salem Hong Kong Open last night.
And judging by the tough matches he has had so far at Victoria Park, his opponents feel the same way.
After a testing first-round victory over Marcos Ondruska on Wednesday, Chang once again had to muster all his reserves to bustle out hard-hitting German Hendrik Dreekmann 7-5, 6-3 in a second-round clash.
Second-ranked Sampras himself had to work hard to oust Australian Patrick Rafter, raising his game at the required time to prevail 6-3, 7-6 (7-1).
Chang, grateful that the match did not spill over to a third set, had nothing but admiration for his 81st-ranked opponent, who was free to rifle in a series of sizzling groundstrokes which had even the fleet-footed Chinese-American scurrying.
'Hendrik was going for his shots throughout the match and did not look tired at all,' said Chang, who now takes on the Czech Republic's Martin Damm in the last quarter-final.
'He was hitting some big shots and for me, I was trying to hang in there and play as aggressive as I could.
'It's the first time I've played him and did not think he would be as crafty as he was. He surprised me a bit.' Chang appeared exhausted in the last few points of the match when a few half-hearted shots saw Dreekman hold break point twice.
But knowing he needed just a couple of points to take the match, Chang lifted his game with a 197-km/h service winner to hold advantage and finally win the match.
There was only one service break in the Sampras-Rafter match, the world number two American breaking Rafter to go 5-3 up in the first set.
The second set was mainly service dominated, but Sampras moved smoothly into a higher gear for the tie-breaker.
Finding gaps at will, Sampras surged into a 4-0 led before Rafter finally won a point.
Sampras, the 1993 Hong Kong champion, set up match point with his fourth ace of the match before wrong-footing Rafter for the winning point.
'I never really felt like I was on my serve. I just tried to take my serve the best that I can,' said Sampras, who booked a quarter-final date with Germany's eighth seed David Prinosil.
'When it came down to the tie-breaker, I served very well. I knew I was in for a tough fight because he has given me problems before.' Indeed, last night was the first time a match between the two players has been settled in two sets.
Chang and Sampras were joined in the last eight by another former Hong Kong winner, Dutchman Richard Krajicek.
Krajicek, who won his first ATP title in Hong Kong in 1991, had a tough first set against Russian Alexander Volkov before prevailing 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.
The big-serving Dutchman, ranked 24th in the world, is eager to re-establish himself as a top-10 player, but only needs to translate his form on the practice courts on to the big stage.
'I've been playing well in practice over the last couple of weeks and hitting the ball well,' said Krajicek. 'It's not been as good in matches and if I can transfer that to matches I can work my way back up.' Krajicek now takes on Australia's Todd Woodbridge.
Sixth-seeded Woodbridge, ranked 27th in the world, has dropped only seven games in two matches, yesterday defeating Sweden's Thomas Johansson 6-1, 6-2.
Prinosil earned his shot at Sampras with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Australian qualifier Wayne Arthurs.
Fifth-seeded Dutchman Jan Siemerink fulfilled his seeding by beating Denmark's Kenneth Carlsen 6-3, 6-4 and now faces Japan's Shuzo Matsuoka in the quarter-finals.
Damm took his place in the last eight with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Italy's Gianluca Pozzi.