The Manhasset Chang family has used tennis not only as a family bonding activity, but as a means to build each generation, starting from humble beginnings immigrating from China two generations ago to the grandest stage of all – the US Open.
Christopher Chang used his tennis scholarship at Penn State to study finance and provide for his family. His daughter, Blake Wu-Chang, was born 12 years ago, and when she was 4, he started sharing his passion for the game with her. This past Saturday, because of her skills, she presented Coco Gauff with the winning Single’s Women’s Championship trophy at the US Open.
Blake’s training has led her to become one of the top Eastern Tennis Association players, ranking No. 1 on Long Island for girls 12’s category.
As one of the top players in her age group nationally, Blake went through an application process to be able to present the award to Gauff. Once invited to attend, she faced another obstacle. A coin toss with another top player, Izyan “Zizou” Ahmad, that would determine who would hand over the award.
“My most nervous moment ever was the coin toss,” she said, “The coin toss was insane. I was like, Oh my god. Oh my god…like the most nervous moment in my whole life.”
But she bet on heads and won, handing the trophy to Gauff while cameras recorded and flashed away. On stage, Blake asked Gauff how she was and congratulated her on the win, to which she replied, “Thank you so much.”
“It was so cool,” Blake recalled. “Just being on the court and then looking up and seeing everyone in the stands. I think it was a one-in-a-lifetime moment, it was like one of the best moments ever. It was surreal. It was awesome. And then being there with Coco, being able to be next to her was just really cool.”
For her father Christopher, who didn’t have the means growing up to buy tickets and watch the game, it felt full circle, he said.
“To turn it around and in one generation see my daughter give that trophy and like my mom was there, my mother-in-law was there, my two other kids were there, it was a once- in-a-lifetime moment,” Chang said. “One that you can only feel blessed to feel grateful for.”
He said in moments like those, you think about your life and your journey. Remembering how his mother used to drive him to tournaments, he said now she’s watching her granddaughter present and award the best player at the US Open.
When Christopher and Maria Wu-Chang had Blake, teaching her tennis was very important to him.
“One of the things I wanted to share with her was to play tennis,” he said. “Tennis was something that was really important to me and my wife and I grew up from a family of immigrants. And, you know, that was the way we paid for college.”
Blake started playing tennis at the age of 4, but it “wasn’t about trophies,” Chang said, but about the fun of sharing a sport that meant so much to the family. He and his wife said they wanted to make sure that their daughter did not feel the weight of expectations and pressure that some young players often feel from parents.
“I want her to be a normal person,” Chang said. “Athletic careers are very short; your life is much longer. So, my job as a parent is to make her the best adult she can be, not the best tennis player.”
By the age of 10, Blake’s dedication started to pay off. She began to climb the rankings and establish herself as a top national player. A pivotal moment in her junior career came at the Little Mo Internationals at Forest Hills, one of the most important and prestigious junior tennis tournaments in the world, where she won the Green Ball division.
“I think I was always really good at it,” Blake said of learning and continuing to play tennis, with her father and family. “I always lose to him when we play games. And he still doesn’t think that I’m able to beat him, but I’m working on it. But when my sister plays, I always go easy on her and she gets very mad when I don’t, so yeah it’s a bonding thing.”
The whole family plays and trains tennis consistently. Christopher and Maria play at the Strathmore Country Club, while the kids Chloe, Chase and Blake train at Robbie Wagner’s Tournament Training Center in Glen Cove.
The family moved from Brooklyn Height about two years ago to Manhasset for more space and fell in love with the neighborhood.
“We wanted more space,” said Maria Chang, “I was the one that was a little bit nervous about coming to the burbs. But after being here for two years, I feel that the schools, the neighbors, and our friends, they’ve been super welcoming. And we feel so much more settled. And it has been so much more than I expected the life in the burbs and seeing our kids thriving and happy. It’s been a wonderful experience.”
In addition to tennis, Blake enjoys broadcasting and cherishes spending time with her family. The Changs have even set up a gym in their basement, where her father is “building us athletes,” Blake joked.