Having Trouble Keeping Up: Is Donald Young Back to Being a Hopeful?

Donald Young is back to being a curiosity. Just 21, and he has gone from IMG marketing campaign and future of American tennis to failure.

Back to hope. To failure.

Now, I hate it that I’m this interested in the Young-Andy Murray match, presumably Saturday at Indian Wells. Everything about the match screams 6-1, 6-1 for Murray, but I’m not interested in the train wreck.

At least, I hope that’s not what interests me.

When Jim Courier was named Davis Cup captain in October, he went through prospects for the U.S. team: “You have a younger group led by Ryan Harrison and hopefully Donald Young Jr.’’

I’d thought Young was on the “outs” again. Of course, Courier could only go so far, including that hope was involved.

Well, Young, ranked No. 143, won three qualifying matches to get into the main draw.

Then on Thursday, he beat Potito Starace, a top 50 player, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Next up, Murray.

There is something about seeing Young fight his way into these events, instead of taking freebie entries thanks to IMG’s clout.

IMG was gold for Young, getting him into anything when he was youngers. That’s assuming it didn’t bury him, which I think it did.

Young was given too much, too early. His parents gladly took it. So when he was 14 and playing grown men on tour, he was getting crushed. His parents said he was learning.

Yes, learning how to get crushed. Learning how to feel defeated. Learning a sense on court that things are hopeless.

I met Young when he was kid playing on public courts in a park on Chicago’s South Side, where he grew up. I’ve followed him through the years, and heard his parents talk about how little the USTA was helping, and how the USTA was demanding total control.

Meanwhile, the USTA thinks the Youngs want lots of money for help, but don’t want the USTA to have any control at all over its investment. They also thought Young was lazy.

So a governing body and a kid’s family were suspicious of each other.

In January, Courier talked about traveling the country and working with potential Davis Cup players.

“I got to go to Los Angeles, spend some time with Sam Querrey and Mardy Fish and Donald Young Jr. out in Carson,’’ Courier said. “I was very heartened to see that Donald made the commitment to go out to Carson and spend some time training out there. . .’’

Also, Courier said, Young worked with the USTA’s strength and conditioning trainers.

“That’s one of the areas where Donald really needs to lift, is in the fitness area,’’ Courier said. “He has so much upside potential. He really is a terrific striker of the ball. He’s leaving a lot on the table because he hasn’t been in great shape. He also hasn’t made that jump from a ball-striker to a tennis player.

“I’m hopeful that he’ll keep the level of commitment that he showed by being out there on his own for a couple of weeks. If he can keep that up, and keep training and keep pushing forward and take his knocks, he’s without a doubt a top-50 player. It would be a real waste if he didn’t reach that at minimum.’’

Did you notice the words “on his own?’’ I’m guessing that was Courier’s way of saying that Young had broken away from his parents briefly, and that he should keep that up.

The Young family’s complaints don’t carry the same weight they used to. A few years ago, it would have been embarrassing for the USTA to watch Young develop into a star without its help. Meanwhile, the USTA rarely develops anyone of its own.

Now, Young needs the USTA more than the USTA needs him.

It’s hard to envision Young reaching the top 50, but maybe time isn’t up afterall.

I don’t think weightlifting is Young’s real need though. He is strong enough, and not the 15-year old locked into people’s minds.

He has two problems. One: He has some of the worst footwork you’ve ever seen. Two: When things go wrong, he gives up. It’s something he learned by playing pros when he was a kid.

So this is what interests me in his match with Murray. Young is on the “ins,’’ fought his way into the main draw, is working with other pros and fought back after losing the first set handily against a top 50 player.

Is he learning? Well, we’ve seen these signs before. Last year at the Australian Open, he stayed close, briefly to Lleyton Hewitt. But while people saw that as a good sign, the truth was that Hewitt showed all the grit, relentlessness and passion, not to mention the footwork.

Everything Young is not.

But maybe he still has time. Or maybe not. That’s what makes him such a curiosity.

“I don’t care how gifted you are, you talk to the guys in the top 10 and ask them what they do,’’ Courier said. “None of them sit around. They’re all grinding and getting the most out of their games.

“Donald has to continue on the vein that he was going in early December. So I’m hopeful that he can still reach his potential, because (if not) it would be a real shame.’’

I’m curious again.

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 “Having Trouble Keeping Up: Is Donald Young Back to Being a Hopeful?

  • Steve

    Nice piece.

    IMG’s mismanagement of Young was absolutely shameful. I can’t imagine how devastating it must have been for a 15-year-old kid to get double bageled by hardcourt no-hoper Carlos Berlocq (who subsequently got double bageled by Blake)

    I think one of Young’s problems is that he plays exclusively in North America on hardcourts against the same handful of journeymen every week. What can he possibly learn when he meets Kendick, Reynolds or Ram for the dozenth time?

    He also needs to try and play on clay to learn a thing or two about fitness, footwork and point construction.

    All in all Young seems very reluctant to leave his comfort zones, whether they be the US Challenger circuit or the coaching set up with his parents.

    • gregcouch

      Thanks. I think Young is leaving his comfort zone now, at least a little. But I did watch him lose 6-4, 6-4 Monday to Ivo Karlovic in U.S. Open qualifying. I can understand that it can be impossible to break Karlovic. But a young, control player with good hands should at least be able to get him to a tiebreaker.

  • Badory

    Nole is a very good player. He is solid all aournd particularly on his serve and the backhand side. I wouldn’t say that it was suprising that he beat Nadal on hard courts. Nadal hasn’t played on hard since March and is very “human” on this surface. It wouldn’t be a shocker if he won the final today. But, I think that Federer will rock him in straight sets!

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