Donald Young: Still waiting for stardom

As a child, Young was future of tennis

Donald Young of the U.S. wipes sweat from his face in the first set of the match against Artem Sitak of New Zealand during the first full night of Main Draw play in the 8-day long Legg Mason Tennis Classic at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington, D.C. on Monday, August 1, 2011. (Pratik Shah/The Washington Times)Donald Young of the U.S. wipes sweat from his face in the first set of the match against Artem Sitak of New Zealand during the first full night of Main Draw play in the 8-day long Legg Mason Tennis Classic at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park in Northwest Washington, D.C. on Monday, August 1, 2011. (Pratik Shah/The Washington Times)
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On Monday afternoon in Rock Creek Park, Donald Young was putting on a show, waxing opponent Artem Sitak in the first round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. The 22-year-old American was quick and powerful, making Sitak’s unforced errors look like the result of his force and agility.

It was the kind of game that he showed flashes of at the age of 10, when at a seniors tournament in Chicago as a ball boy, Young asked John McEnroe to hit it around a bit with him. McEnroe at the time reportedly came out of that brief encounter saying Young “has hands like another lefty I know well” — lofty praise from the legendary southpaw. Talent agency IMG World signed Young soon after.

But Young’s career has been tumultuous at best, including unrealized potential and a controversial rant that got him in trouble with the same U.S. Tennis Association that poured years of resources into the child prodigy. This week, continuing with his second-round match Wednesday against Jurgen Melzer, is yet another opportunity for Young to show that he’s still on the right track and hasn’t joined a long list of players who never lived up to expectations.

“When things don’t happen when you expect, you can’t just quit. You got to kind of reassess it and keep going forward, and that’s what I’ve been doing and tried a bunch of different things,” Young said Monday. “Some things work, some things won’t work and you just have to see what’s best for you.”

On the court, Young has had to alter his focus, concentrating on picking the right tournaments to play without overworking himself. Considered one of the rising stars in tennis as far back as 2004 when he was the only athlete featured in Newsweek’s “Who’s Next?” issue, he’s the 128th-ranked player in the world and a bit behind schedule.

Things were looking up for Donald Young after defeating Artem Sitak in the Legg Mason Classic on Monday night. Young's tennis career hasn't always been smooth (below) despite high expectations and years of resources provided by the USTA. (Pratik Shah/The Washington Times)

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Things were looking up for Donald Young after defeating Artem Sitak in ... more >

Young’s agent with IMG, Carlos Flemming, said that nowadays people have short memories – already forgetting his client’s success as a teenager.

“Everyone grows at a different pace. He’s actually ahead of schedule,” Flemming told The Washington Times. “When he starts to have success on the professional tour people will forget this window where his game didn’t go as well as he expected.”

Young’s tennis career hasn’t always been smooth (below) despite high expectations and years of resources provided by the USTA.

“The goals themselves haven’t really changed, just the timeline has changed a little bit,” Young conceded. “The goals are this year I want to get inside the top 50 - I’ve said that before, but I definitely want to do that this year — and hopefully if I’m in the top 50 starting next year, maybe even into the top 20, those are my short-term goals right now.”

To get there, Young has taken advice from fellow Americans Mardy Fish, James Blake — who defeated David Nalbandian 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday night at the Legg Mason tournament — and Andy Roddick. And he worked out with folks from the USTA in Carson, Calif., two times a day for three or four weeks on strength and fitness training.

Blake has offered to let Young train with him, an idea to which Flemming – who represents both players – gives his full blessing.

“I’m a little older and little more experienced than Donald,” Blake said. “But I do think I have something to offer in terms of showing him how I work, how hard I train, what I do to take care of my body, what I do to rest and stretch and all that kind of stuff that gets you ready to play on tour.”

Off the court, Young got himself into trouble with the USTA earlier this year. In April, upset after losing a tournament final that decided the USTA’s wild card entry into the French Open, Young blasted out a profanity-filled tirade on Twitter that included the line that the USTA “screwed me for the last time.”

Patrick McEnroe, who serves as the organization’s general manager for player development, didn’t withdraw support for Young but insisted he apologize.

“We want our players to do well. Quite frankly, I’m offended,” he told reporters on a conference call. “I’m offended for the people on our team that have worked very hard to try to help Donald because when he said what he said about them, I think it was taken quite personally by a lot of members of the player development team.”

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