Chang Beaten by Krickstein for L.A. Title

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Aaron Krickstein ran to the net and angled a backhand volley into the corner of the court.

Even before the ball landed, he shouted three words.

“I did it!”

Krickstein said it loud enough so that everyone could hear.

“Maybe to show people I can still win some tournaments,” he said. “You know, some people had written me off and didn’t give me a fair shot.

“I was just kind of being myself, for all the work coming back, that I could do it.”

He did it, all right. What Krickstein did was beat Michael Chang, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, Sunday to win the Volvo/Los Angeles tournament at UCLA when once again he probably should have lost.

In his semifinal Saturday night, Krickstein was behind, 1-6, 2-5, to Brad Gilbert, stared down seven match seven match points and won.


Less than 24 hours later, Krickstein trailed Chang, 2-6, 1-4, and again came back to win.

Is there a lesson in this or what?

“I usually play my best when it’s tight,” Krickstein said.

Only 22, Krickstein’s six-year career has been plagued by a series of injuries, most of them to his legs and feet. He plays with a metal pin in one foot and a brace covering his left knee.

Krickstein’s victory, his second this year and his sixth overall, was worth $59,500 and might improve his No. 16 ranking when the new computer figures are released today.

“I always said if I could just get through one year when I wasn’t injured, well, I could play with the big guys.”

Chang, 17, isn’t one of the big guys, at least in physical stature, but his third tournament title looked in the bag when he led Krickstein by a set and two breaks.

But Chang double-faulted to break point, then sent a backhand wide down the line and Krickstein was suddenly back in it.

“He let me back in it a little bit,” Krickstein said. “The double fault, then the loose backhand. Nothing major. Probably being up two breaks, you own the match there.”

Soon, Chang lost possession. He lost four consecutive games and won only two more the rest of the match.

Forced to a third set, Chang was serving at 2-3 and held a 40-0 lead, but Krickstein managed to get to deuce. He got to a drop shot and sent a winning lob over the head of Chang, who could only watch it bounce away.

Then, at break point, Chang’s backhand from the baseline hit the bottom of the net. Krickstein closed it out by winning the last three games.

“I have no excuses,” Chang said. “What can I say? You just take your hat off to him and move on.”

Actually, Chang had a fairly familiar excuse, even if he was reluctant to talk about it. His leg muscles started to cramp in the third set and they affected his play in the most important point of the match.

Serving at 2-3, 40-30, Chang impatiently sent a backhand cross-court to try to end the point quickly, but the ball got caught in the net.

“I knew if the point went longer, he’d have a better opportunity of winning it,” Chang said.

Krickstein said he noticed that Chang was having problems.

“He was starting to cramp a little bit,” he said. “I never cramp. I’m going to be able to play all day.”

He didn’t have to. Not even the fact that Krickstein was playing in Chang’s back yard, sort of, or that he was outnumbered by cheering sections.

The usual Team Chang--Joe and Betty Chang and coach Jose Higueras--were in the second row of their box. Across the aisle was Krickstein’s principal ally, 24-year-old Frank Unkelbach of Hamburg, West Germany.

Unkelbach, a former tennis player, met Krickstein in July at a tournament in Stuttgart and they became friends. A representative of Hugo Boss, a clothing company, Unkelbach, made sure Krickstein thought about something other than tennis.

They saw some sights while in town, concentrating on Beverly Hills.

“I know nothing from Rodeo Drive, he knows nothing from Rodeo Drive, but we were everywhere in our rent car,” Unkelbach said.

Krickstein and Unkelbach are heading for the Caribbean on Tuesday, where they plan to be everywhere enjoying water sports. Krickstein said he will not use a jet ski.

“They hurt my knees,” he said.

He will take $59,500 with him, the winning share. For Chang, the check isn’t as large, $29,750, but a nice piece of Chang change nonetheless.

Krickstein thought about the path he had followed to get this far. It wasn’t as though he was destined to win after saving seven match points, but it may have seemed like it.

“When you’re down match points and win, everything seems to go your way from then on,” Krickstein said. “It’s like you can’t really lose.”