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Donald Young: Still waiting for stardom
As a child, Young was future of tennis
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.
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."
Flemming praised the USTA for everything it does nationally and said Young and the organization are "joined at the hip," so naturally there will be some miscommunication.
"The relationship between Donald and the USTA has never been bad. Along with different relationships you can always have frustration," Flemming said. "While it was unfortunate some of the things happened in April, I think that was a public display of some things that happen in relationship."
Young, whose coaching by his parents created some issues with the USTA even before this incident, apologized and deleted his Twitter account. Speaking like a man who learned at least some semblance of a lesson, Young said his relationship with the USTA is good now.
"It's back to the way it was; I don't think it ever really changed-changed. It's a touchy situation," he said. "They're still good; they're still open to helping me out, definitely, and I'll definitely be utilizing it, so it's back to normal."
Well, not quite everything is back to normal. Young hasn't considered bringing his Twitter account back to life and won't do so anytime soon.
"No. Definitely not," he said with a laugh. "I'm kind of missing it a little bit, because I see all these other people on it and everybody's saying, 'Did you see that?' and I have not seen it. But I'll definitely stay away from it."
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