- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Donald Young turned 19 three weeks ago. Yet he seems older. Not in his physical appearance - he still has the slight shoulders and skinny legs of a high school freshman - but in the way he carries himself, the confident stride, the been-there-done-that tone.

That’s what happens to a player when he hits with John McEnroe at 10, signs a Nike contract at 14 and becomes the youngest person to win a junior Grand Slam event a year later.

That’s what happens when an black youth from the South Side of Chicago gets good at hitting serves and volleys. He becomes the person anointed to serve as the game’s ambassador to a new generation.

That’s what happens when a player doesn’t continue along the same rapid trajectory through his late teens - he gains a certain perspective.

“I look at pictures when I was 14, 15, and it’s totally different,” said Young, ranked 99th on the ATP Tour. “I have definitely matured and developed.”

Young’s recent success - a victory over Tommy Haas at last week’s Countrywide Classic and a 6-3, 6-1 upset of Peruvian Luis Horna on Monday night in the first round of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic - has been a long time in coming.

“I went back to the basics,” Young said. “And I think it has worked.”

In 2005, Young was the No. 1 junior player in the world coming off his historic win in the Australian Open Junior Championships. But it would take 2 1/2 years for him to win his first ATP singles match, and he didn’t crack the top 100 until November.

As he slogged his way through the ITF Futures/ATP Challengers circuit, there was some criticism that Young wasn’t worth the hype, was rushed into turning pro and had burned out.

Young disagrees.

“I wouldn’t say I was hurried along,” Young said last week en route to the District. “I had success faster than most people.”

Landing at the Legg Mason hasn’t quieted his critics.

“Obviously he is a talented player,” Haas said Monday night. “I just think he needs a little bit more firepower and to be a little more social and actually greet you when you look at him. But other than that, he’s fine.”

What if Young had gone to college, developed his left-handed backhand and dominated the NCAAs like 2007 Legg Mason runner-up John Isner or this year’s early upstart, Somdev Devvarman?

What if he spent more time building up his 5-foot-11, 160-pound frame?

What if he had had a chance to hang out with the boys, instead of trotting the globe and being home-schooled by his parents?

“[Isner and I] have experienced something completely different from being a generic pro tennis player,” Devvarman said this week. “I can only speak for myself, but I had such a good time in college that there’s no chance I would trade it for anything.”

Young said he’s “pretty sure” he will attend college when he’s done with tennis, and when he’s home in Atlanta, he “goes back to doing kid things” - going to the mall and the movies with his friends.

But when he’s playing, Young runs with an older crowd - and often finds himself on the outside looking in.

“I am cool with all those guys,” Young said when asked about his relationship with fellow Americans Isner, Mardy Fish, James Blake and Andy Roddick. “But there is an age difference between me and those guys. They can all go out and go to the clubs, but I can’t.”

The Legg Mason provides a unique opportunity - a shot at showing he belongs with the men - and a chance to catch up on field trips he missed as a boy.

“If I am playing well,” Young said, “I hope to go to some of the monuments.”

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