Americans looking 'dandy' for title

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 20 March, 1998, 12:00am

If history is to repeat itself, an American player should be a good bet to win this year's Salem Open.

While American players have been dominant in winning six of the eight tournaments to date, it was not that way in the early days of the event when it was known as the Salem Hongkong Open.

In 1990, tournament organisers Spectrum gave tennis fans a preview of what they could expect in world-class tennis.

They brought in then-world number two Stefan Edberg to play reigning French Open champion Michael Chang in an event known as the Salem Prelude.

It took place three weeks before the inaugural tournament and a sell-out crowd at Victoria Park was hoping crowd favourite Chang would duplicate his French Open feat.

He had defeated Edberg on that occasion to become, at 18 years of age, the youngest Grand Slam winner. But, in Hong Kong, it was not to be.

The Swedish star won a close first set and then cruised to victory, winning 7-6 (7-2), 6-4.

At the inaugural event, heavy rain limited play on the opening three days and, by the Thursday, top seed Wally Masur of Australia had crashed out, losing in three sets to Dutchman Tom Nijssen.

Enter Pat Cash. At 24, the 1987 Wimbledon champion was on the comeback trail and the Australian received a wild card entry to the tournament.

After an eight-month lay-off due to injury, Cash got his game together, defeating Patrick Kuhnen in the semi-finals and then beating Austrian Alex Antonitsch in the final, 6-3, 6-4.

Cash then teamed up with compatriot Masur and defeated an American pairing to win the doubles crown.

In 1991, Richard Krajicek marked his arrival in international tennis when he defeated Masur in three sets to win his first major title.

In a tournament, which featured tennis bad boy John McEnroe, the 19-year-old Dutchman blasted 10 aces in the final to win $260,500.

Jim Courier showed why he was the then-world number one in the 1992 tournament by defeating compatriot Chang in straight sets. It marked the start of the American domination of the Salem Open.

In 1993, the event had an all- star line-up with three of the world's top five-ranked players in number one Pete Sampras, number two Courier and Chang. In his first tournament as number one, Sampras beat Courier in three long sets to win the first of his two Salem Open titles.

When Pat Rafter beat Ivan Lendl in the semi-finals of the 1994 tournament, it created an opportunity for Chang to finally win in Hong Kong.

The popular American, who has a fanatical following in Asia, made no mistake as he easily beat Rafter 6-1, 6-3.

Chang continued his momentum in 1995, beating Jonas Bjorkman 6-1, 6-3 in a tournament attended by the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

The next year, Chang was again in the final but faced tougher competition in Sampras.

Sampras started the week as world number two behind Thomas Muster, but regained the top position with a three-set victory over Chang.

He has since held the number- one ranking for an incredible 101 weeks.

Last year, in a rematch of their 1994 final, Chang returned to form, when he beat Rafter in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.