How Not to Develop a Prodigy, Part III: Patrick McEnroe Gets His Apology, Makes Donald Young Dance. Now What?

Donald Young

So Patrick McEnroe has Donald Young’s apology. He and the USTA have Young’s  words of appreciation for what they’ve done. And now, we forgive and forget.

Everyone loves a happy ending. Everyone loves a smiley face.

Young had a temper tantrum. McEnroe’s little feelings were hurt. It’s all over.

And how do things move forward? They go back.

Same spot they were before. And by that, I mean they go back to a relationship so bitter between aging prodigy and governing body that it can’t keep from bubbling over, out into the public.

What an amazing fail. Young was hyped from the age of 10, way before you can tell anything about the future of a male tennis player. But he was sold as tennis’ Tiger Woods. Instead tennis’ Tiger wrote on his Twitter account Friday, “FU—USTA!’’ He wrote that the USTA is “full of shi—! They have screwed me for the last time!’’

Now, Young has apologized. But what could have been a constructive, learning moment over the past few days turned instead into a little superfluous spat. By not doing the hard work that could go to mend this relationship, both sides, basically, are just trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

Not possible.

“Basically, I want to just apologize for what I said and the way I said it,’’ Young told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “It wasn’t the right way to say it, at all. I appreciate the USTA’s support over the years. It helped me out a lot.’’

That was an excellent apology, but Young was forced into it. McEnroe made Young dance by appealing to the public to apply pressure. That’s all that was accomplished. Young had to dance because he needs the USTA. The USTA, meanwhile, continues down a path with a zero success rate, not realizing how much of its reputation hinges on Young.

Young will continue getting help from the USTA, but also will continue to be coached by his parents. The USTA wants Young to ditch his parents and learn from them, at no charge. Young doesn’t trust the USTA.

None of that has changed one bit. This same path continues.

Patrick McEnroe

I don’t know whose side to take on this because I think both sides have failed. In general, I side with an individual over a large, bloated bureaucracy. But I’m not sure a tennis federation can build a champion. It takes a special person with special desire.

That said, it takes money and training, too. Not long ago, the feeling was that Russia was doing it best. But while that led to a lot of big money-makers, it didn’t build champions. Maybe that’s all you can rely on a system to do? Spain is the hot system now, at least in developing men. But you suspect that their will pass, too.

Someone has to discover these prodigies first. In Young’s case, the discovery seems to have started with agents at IMG, and with John McEnroe’s spotlight. The USTA had to be mixed in there somewhere, too.

But I’m not sure Young’s discovery was based so much on his potential on the court as his potential to be seen as the next Woods. Everyone might have picked the wrong guy, and certainly picked him too early.

Well, the USTA hasn’t shown, either, that it knows what to do with the players it has chosen. But Young said Monday that he needs the USTA to help him develop. It has provided him with coaching and wildcards, free passes into tournaments, even cash.

Meanwhile, Young has continued to be coached by his parents, who have hit their ceiling.

Last week, Young was angry because he wanted a wildcard into the French Open. The USTA wouldn’t eliminate a planned mini-tournament it had lined up to determine who gets that wildcard. So Young went nuts after losing in the final of the mini-tourney.

McEnroe, USTA’s director of player development, called a teleconference to tell everyone every detail of support, every penny spent on Young, and to demand an apology and ask for a thank you. Then Young responded.

But what happens now with Young? The thing is, for the first time he’s actually good enough to belong on tour. He is ranked No. 95, and has a win over Andy Murray. His career won-loss record is terrible, mostly because he has always been placed over his head, given too many wildcards into big league tournaments when his game belonged in the minors.

Anyway, Young, who’s 21, remains Example No. 1 of what the USTA can do for a player, or to one. Young will continue, entitled and immature.

This spat isn’t going to harm or to help their relationship. The hard feelings will just go back to bubbling again, waiting for the next time to spill out. U.S. tennis will continue to struggle, and Young will never be Tiger Woods. He never was.

Smiley face!

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About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

3 responses to “How Not to Develop a Prodigy, Part III: Patrick McEnroe Gets His Apology, Makes Donald Young Dance. Now What?

  • Matt Mitchell

    Nice piece. I’m wondering if the Youngs have any comment. Particularly liked the following quote:

    “In general, I side with an individual over a large, bloated bureaucracy. But I’m not sure a tennis federation can build a champion. It takes a special person with special desire.”

    I had an interesting conversation two years ago at the US Open with Tom Gorman, the former Davis Cup coach and top American player, who said, ‘Americans are individuals. We don’t do ‘group’ well.”

    So can the US develop or find (or buy as you’ve pointed out) a champion?

    I think Patrick’s approach, all inclusive, has been to try and provide the backbone support to the player in need. I think the only problem, as I mentioned on Taylor Dent’s FB page, is they have to clearly provide policy to anyone who complies with their training program. If someone violates policy, then they’re gone. Next player.

    In Young’s case, I think the USTA has taken Donald Young as far as Donald Young wants to go. The only problem is the USTA wants the credit (even though I think they will never admit it) for their stake in his development.

    But like a stock that you’ve held from the high to the trough, it’s time to not be emotional and cut your loses.

    Time for DY to man up and learn the lesson of personal responsibility.

    Own it. Don’t massage it, backpedal it, and work your way back into the system.

    Leave it. And let’s see if he can make it his way.

  • withmyowneyes

    As someone who saw pieces of this in person, people are completely leaving several key players out of this, although some posters on previous articles have mentioned his parents. It is clear they were gravy-training Donald and had some serious issues with handing DY over to people maybe better suited to improve his game. They certainly are a key contributor to the problem, as is DY, who at some point has to take responsibility for his own actions. He has always been a pouty little boy.

    The one group being left out of this is Octogon. Let’s not forget, they were the ones who snatched DY up and signed him to all of those ridiculous deals at age 15, then set him off with wild cards at the ATP level. That was not the USTA. I can also forgive his parents a little because they thought they were dealing with professionals who knew what they were doing. They had the wrong strategy from the get-go and they were driving that train. They were also the publicity machine spouting off about him being the next American hope.

    Come on, Greg. How about a little venom for the only people who cashed in this deal?

  • USTAisOverPriced

    Entitlement is destroying America! Make the kid earn something so he might actual appreciate it.

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