On Saturday at Wimbledon, 24th-ranked Kei Nishikori will compete in a third-round match against 15th-ranked Nick Kyrgios.
The 28-year-old Nishikori has been on the ATP Tour since 2007, winning 11 singles titles. A turning point in his career was the moment in 2014 when he called upon Michael Chang to be his coach.
“I think it’s a great matchup with me and Michael, because we play kind of similar tennis, and we have [the] same height,” Nishikori said in 2015. “Mentally, he was really tough. [There’s] so, so many things to learn from him. He has a lot of experience, and for sure, he’s helping my game right now, and my ranking is one of the highest right now.”
Chang, 46, is one of the greatest tennis players of the last 30 years. He won 34 top-level professional singles titles, including the 1989 French Open when he was just 17 years old, becoming the youngest male player to ever win a Grand Slam final. He reached a career-high ranking of No. 2 in 1996 and 12 years later, in 2008, he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Rhode Island.
Away from the court, Chang launched the Chang Family Foundation and the Christian Sports League, both of which are based in Southern California. The foundation’s mission is to put the Christian faith into action by doing the work of Christ, thereby sharing the message of salvation, serving people in need, and giving individuals hope for a better tomorrow.
Chang has always been outspoken about his faith in Christ, beginning in 1989, when he won the French Open and then proceeded to point people back to the Lord following his Grand Slam victory. “I thank the Lord Jesus Christ, because without Him, I am nothing,” he said.
Tennis is not a sport with many players openly professing a faith in Christ. While Chang didn’t face a ton of scrutiny, it was tough to navigate the early part of his career being one of the few Christian players.
“I didn’t have any of my fellow players ever come up to me and give me a hard time for being a Christian,” Chang told Chad Bonham in 2013. “If anything, I think they actually respected me for it. But it was difficult because throughout my 16 years on tour, I probably could count on one hand how many Christian tennis players I actually came across. I’m not sure if that has to do with tennis being a very individual sport or whether it has to do with the players being on the younger side. I mean, golf is an individual sport, but they have Bible studies every week. So from that regard, it was difficult.”
Chang retired from tennis in 2003, but continues to inspire both through his foundation and by coaching Nishikori.
“As far as coaching goes, I do enjoy coaching in general,” Chang said in 2014. “Even periodically just helping my dad with his tennis game or helping my niece with her game, or just getting in an encouraging word to people that I’m in contact with …. Obviously with Kei, at the highest level, it’s certainly satisfying to be able to see him improve and to be able to see that he’s feeling satisfied and feeling that, ‘Hey, I’m getting better. I’m improving and results are showing.’ I think that’s really the positive thing for me.”
Since becoming a Christian at the age of 15 in 1988, Chang has been an ambassador for Christ. Now in his mid-40s, the Chang Family Foundation he founded is designed to do exactly that — point people back to Christ. On its website, the foundation states that it takes its “time and resources to put the family’s Christian faith into action. Through the world of sports CFF is able to touch the lives of countless people and give them hope for a better future.”
Chang will be focused on Wimbledon on Saturday morning, when his pupil Nishikori faces Kyrgios. Match time begins at 7 a.m. ET, with coverage on ESPN2 and the ESPN App.