And, poof, just like that, American tennis is gone. No, not just from the Australian Open, where the last American man standing, John Isner, lost before the first weekend of the year’s first major. US tennis is gone from the world map, too.
The top players have faded, and the bottom ones aren’t good enough. This is the moment US tennis has been nervous about for years:
Not one American man is good enough even to contend for a major championship. Forget Wimbledon. Forget the US Open. And only one woman, Serena Williams, is good enough. She will hide the problems in women’s tennis in the United States for a little while longer.
But the men? They are a vacuum.
It has been coming for years. John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors passed the baton to Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, who passed it to Andy Roddick, who managed to win just one major. But still, he was a top player. And now? Roddick has crossed the finish line and put the baton on the ground somewhere. No one will take it. You want it? It’s yours.
John McEnroe ruined Donald Young. Young’s parents ruined Donald Young. His own bad, lazy attitude ruined him. His agent, IMG? Ruined him. The media: Ruined him. The U.S. Tennis Association?
Ruined Donald Young.
Young has been a study in all the different ways to screw up an American tennis phenom. He was supposed to be tennis’ Tiger Woods. By 2007, The New York Times dubbed him a failure with a story in its Sunday magazine entitled: “Prodigy’s End.”
He was 17 at the time.
But the last, last, last straw didn’t come until this spring, when things dropped so far that Young wrote on his Twitter account: “F— USTA” and they’re “full of s—.” Only he didn’t use dashes.
So it’s a little hard to figure out how Young, now 22, is the story of this year’s US Open, after Serena Williams that is. He has beaten two seeded players to reach the fourth round, the final 16. He beat Stan Wawrinka in a classic fifth-set tiebreaker, tennis’ ultimate test of mind, body and guts. Tuesday, he’s scheduled to play No. 4 Andy Murray for a spot in the quarterfinals.
“Everybody’s light comes on at their own time,” Young said. “Hopefully, mine is coming on now.”
These phenom stories are all mapped out. Either a sudden emergence, or a straight arrow to the top. Anything less is how a 17-year old winds up being labeled a failure.
There has always been too much reality in Donald Young’s fairy tale. Is it possible to take all the wrong steps to the mountaintop?
Sometimes, it’s just the moment. Or maybe it was just time for it to happen. There can be a point when it all just comes together, and who really knows why. Well, I think I know why it’s happening to Donald Young right now, and what set it off.
Tennis waited so long for Young that it finally gave up. Now, as a failed prodigy, he’s in his first tour-level semifinal, at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington. He beat No. 26 Marcos Baghdatis Friday and should beat Radek Stepanek today to reach the final.
“I feel everybody clicks at their own time,’’ Young said. “The light comes on in everybody’s due time.’’
Serena Williams and the man accused of stalking her
Patenema Ouedraogo talked his way past security in Tampa last month, saying he was Serena Williams’ assistant, and got all the way to her dressing room at the Home Shopping Network, where she was making an appearance. She had him escorted from the building, the allegation goes, but he just waited outside for her the rest of the day.
He tried to make contact with her at a Hollywood radio show in April. He followed her to a meeting with her agent in Los Angeles in October, saying he wanted to promote her clothing line and TV show in Africa. And he was arrested near her house in Florida this week for allegedly stalking her. He was carrying a note saying they were soul mates.
Ouedraogo, 40, said he kept track of Williams’ whereabouts. . .
By following her on Twitter.
This is another Twitter-related accident for tennis, and for sports in general. We have been overwhelmed by them lately. Less than two weeks ago, U.S. tennis player, Donald Young, the (former) prodigy, tweeted “Fu—USTA!!’’ They’re “full of sh–!’’ He ended up having to apologize. He also took down his Twitter account entirely.
This week, several athletes in several sports angered people with comments on Twitter about the U.S. killing Osama bin Laden. Pittsburgh Steeler Rashard Mendenhall tweeted “What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side.’’
It created such an outcry that he issued a blog post later, saying he didn’t mean to sound pro-bin Laden or anti-U.S., that he was only commenting on the large celebrations over a “murder.’’
Well, this isn’t to infringe on anyone’s First Amendment Rights, but to warn athletes that Twitter can be dangerous. It is this new Internet toy, but it’s not all fun and games. It’s dicey business. Continue reading
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.
“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. Continue reading
I agree with Patrick McEnroe that today’s kids have a ridiculous sense of entitlement. In my opinion, especially with star athletes, it comes when you treat kids like rock stars, build them up too much. They are used to having things taken care of for them. You just focus on your greatness, we’ll deal with everything else. We’ll resolve your problems.
So they don’t live a normal childhood and then don’t know how to behave normally as adults. They have no practice at solving problems.
Donald Young has a ridiculous sense of entitlement.
Maybe that led to his profane outburst on Twitter Friday, when he wrote, “Fu—USTA!!’’ They’re “full of sh–!’’ Or, maybe not. That’s just McEnroe’s side of the story, that Young was upset he wasn’t handed a wildcard, a free pass, into the French Open. He didn’t want to play the six-person tournament the USTA had set up first. We still haven’t heard Young’s side of things.
Where are you Donald?
But let’s just take McEnroe’s word for now. He is frustrated, and had a teleconference Monday to talk about it, saying several things such as this: “You have to earn your way to get something.’’
It was a shot directed straight at Young. The problem was it wasn’t pointed the right way.
Don’t blame children for feeling entitled. It’s the adults. The kids aren’t born with an attitude problem, but have a lack of maturity, and also faulty teaching about compassion and empathy. Rock stars don’t need those things.
For example, imagine this: A sports agency and one of the greatest, and most popular tennis players of all time, get together to concoct a story that turns some 10-year old kid into The Chosen One. Turns him into tennis’ Tiger Woods. All he hears for years is that he’s the greatest. He can’t miss. And then, as a kid, he gets wildcard entries into pro events, where he can be crushed regularly, but everyone can ogle him. That, of course, interests Nike.
Meanwhile, the USTA pushes him as The Next Great Thing.
Well, we don’t have to imagine that, do we? That is Donald Young’s story. The USTA sold him – to us and to him and to his family—as the next great thing. Now, Patrick McEnroe, of the USTA, speaks out against his sense of entitlement? Of course he has a sense of entitlement. Continue reading
At this point, I wonder if the USTA will just cut ties with Donald Young. This could be its big chance to get rid of its biggest headache. And in some ways, that might be best for both sides. A nightmare relationship between prodigy and governing body hit an unbelievable depth Friday when Young wrote this on his Twitter account:
“Fu– USTA!! Their full of sh–! They have screwed me for the last time!’’
Only he didn’t shorten the words to keep them clean enough for publication. (Yes, he wrote “Their’’ instead of “They’re’’).
You just can’t write that, uh, stuff. You can disagree. You can point out that they are bullying you, that they are favoring others over you, that they are lying to you. Young and his parents, who coach him, have accused the USTA of all of those things over the years. But you can’t say Fu—them. Not publicly. Every line was stepped over, stomped on, spit on. That said, my first reaction was that Young is wrong:
The USTA will absolutely screw him again.
No matter how this thing is portrayed, no matter how the USTA tries to put this all on Young – today, Patrick McEnroe, head of USTA’s player development, will have a teleconference – this is a two-sided coin.
And the USTA had better be very careful. Let me put it bluntly: In a sport that has a history of being extremely white, it’s bad enough that the USTA can’t get along with one of the only black players to actually come through its system. It gets worse if that means all effort and hope are given instead to Ryan Harrison, a white kid from the south. That’s assuming Harrison’s relationship with the USTA is still solid.
And I’m not sure it is.
But the Young family is already looking at Harrison and making comparisons, wondering about special treatment. “Look at who gets all the wildcards (free and automatic entries into tournaments),’’ someone close to Young told me recently.
What an amazing run this has been for Young and the USTA, an amazing run of failure. It is not just a story of a failed kid, but also a failed governing body.
They have failed each other, failed themselves, failed you and me and the tennis world. At this point, Young and the USTA both look like losers. You want to pick sides? Go ahead.
This is the story of how not to develop a prodigy. He has been fumbled and mishandled by his own parents, by the USTA, by agents and by a hype machine that started with John McEnroe. Plus, Young has mishandled himself.
And what did we get? Not the savior of U.S. tennis, that’s for sure. Not a good-looking black kid from inner-city Chicago providing an unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime boost to a game that could have used him. Continue reading
A few months ago, Pete Sampras was beating Donald Young in a groundstroke game, of all things, and trash-talking. Repeat: Young, a 21-year old groundstroker and one-time hope of American tennis, was losing to a nearly 40-year old legend at what should be the worst part of his game.
“He calls me `Princess,’ ’’ Young said. “And he talks a lot of stuff. . .I didn’t know whether to take it seriously or not.’’
Take it seriously, Donald. Sampras was joking, but the best jokes carry some truth with them.
Young was the talk of the first week at Indian Wells after his breakthrough win over Andy Murray, 7-5, 6-3. For the first time, we were able to see Young at the top level of tennis, fighting as if he belongs.
So where does Donald Young stand now? What does he take from Indian Wells?
Think about this: We have been hearing about him for years, but this was the first time it was for beating somebody.
Greg Couch is a national general columnist at FoxSports.com, and has traveled the world covering tennis. He is a member of the International Tennis Writers Association. A former sports columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times, he is an award-winning journalist whose tennis writing has been anthologized in the book "The Best American Sportswriting."