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.